“Your office is you and sends a powerful message to your patients. Find out how to attract and keep patient referrals by improving your office’s ambiance, staff efficiency and patient flow.
You may ask, Why is a Taj Mahal necessary? Why don’t I just paint a little here and there and do a little patch work and make do?
There is a very sound reason why this procedure would eliminate growth and only perpetuate a static position. The very first and best investment a professional must make is in their career. There are three essential considerations in designing an office; namely, office ambiance/perception, staff efficiency and patient flow. The first of these three, ambiance/perception is essential in obtaining patient referrals (the number one method of increasing patient base.) If the office ambiance does not represent success, no patient, regardless of how well they may like the doctor and staff, will refer as they feel the office is not a reflection of themselves.
And, keep in mind that no matter what the current patient base, a practice will decline drastically in five years if no new patients are developed. As for the latter two considerations, an office designed to provide good patient flow and staff efficiency will allow for one less staff member, which would represent a substantial savings annually, a solid amount to use for pension planning. Remember always, if your home looks better than your office, you have your priorities in reverse, as your office generates your financial independence, not your home. Do your patients see you as a trusted friend, a professional who is concerned for their well-being, or do they think you are interested in them only as a means to increase your own wealth?
The perception of you, your staff, your practice, and the whole specialty of the chiropractic is critical to your ability to attract and keep patients. And those patients are the key to increasing your practice’s profitability. In our medical consulting practice, we have conducted thousands of exit interviews with patients, and our advice to doctors on how to maintain and develop their practices is guided by the results of those interviews — what makes patients feel important, what causes them to place confidence in their chiropractor and what encourages them to refer their friends. This article begins a five-part series that will discuss how you can develop a positive image through your office’s ambiance, your relationship to your community, and your professional affiliations. We’ll also give practical steps for increasing referrals from your staff and patients.
Your Office Is You
Your office sends a powerful message to patients — determining what message it sends is the topic of this first article. The office is an extension of your personality, and it tells patients whether you and your staff are warm, friendly and inviting, or cold uncaring and rejecting. Because the sauce-economics of today’s chiropractic practice often precludes a personal relationship, you must find a way to dispel the notion that your patients are simply a source of revenue. The patient’s impression of you starts before he or she walks through the front door. Your choice of location – whether it is convenient with plenty of parking, or hidden in a large, inaccessible professional building tells a patient something about you. In today’s competitive market your visibility is a subtle marketing tool that can give you a strong patient base simply because people know that you exist.
Signs Say It
Your office should be in a welcome mode at all times. Keep in mind that patients are almost always afraid to come to the doctor because it is adversity that brings them there. Using signs appropriately throughout the office can help get your message across. On the front door of your office should be the name of the practice with a chiropractic symbol (representing healing) and the name of the doctor or doctors and the key word: WELCOME! You want your patients to immediately know that they are wanted. In addition to making the patient feel welcome, the office ambiance should inspire confidence. We believe that a practice name is always preferable to an individual’s name.
Whether or not you are a solo practitioner, your practice should have a name that communicates competence and concern. In our interview, patients have told us that a title such as Chiropractic Associates confuses them. They think the term, “”associates”” indicates a professional organization or club. We prefer names like Chiropractic Clinic, Chiropractic Institute, or Chiropractic Care Center that clearly designates your practice as a place where patients can obtain chiropractic care.
Inside the Front Door
Once a patient opens the door to your practice, he or she should see a “”welcome room,”” instead of the traditional, dreary waiting room. How do these two differ? The welcome theme must be carried throughout. Instead of seating your receptionist behind frosted glass, which says, in effect, “”This is private, you are bothering us,”” the receptionist should be out among the people in an area defined by a soffit with a lowered, well-lighted ceiling. In front of the soffit we suggest a color stripe, preferably using the accent color for your practice. Somewhere in the welcome area, list the services that are available, the names of staff members – including the doctors and the hours you are open to the public. We also suggest posting a message letting patients know what number to call in case of an emergency. Your payment policies should be listed in the reception area as well. Since many of your patients probably have Workmens’ Compensation, give them a handout explaining what Workmens’ Compensation will and will not pay, whether you take assignment, and what the deductible costs are.
Something to Do
Time spent waiting for the doctor can feel interminable if there is nothing to keep the patients occupied. When a patient first walks into the office, your receptionist should hand him or her a questionnaire to fill out Not only does this spare the patients from having to divulge private information out loud, but it also gives them something to do while they are waiting. To make sure that your questionnaire asks reasonable questions with enough room to write the answers, try filling it out yourself once before giving it out to your patients.
Your magazines should be no more than two months old, since ancient magazines send a message to patients that you don’t care enough to keep your subscriptions current. Placing magazine racks in your welcome area will help keep the place neat. A television and VCR playing a tape with information about your services can also alleviate the boredom of waiting, but make sure that the video is long enough. You don’t want patients to have to sit through the same tape two or three times. A literature rack is another way to build goodwill and let patients know about your services. Include handouts on chiropractic care and procedures and a, “”Welcome to our Office”” brochure. The sign on the literature rack should say, “”Please Take One.””
Name Tags With Titles
In addition, all staff members should have name tags giving their first name only (so that they don’t get calls at home from patients). The tag should also give the employee’s title. Rather than giving your employees titles such as receptionist or bookkeeper, call them something more technical, like Chiropractic Assistant or Chiropractic Technician. If a front desk staff member has to perform any duty with a patient, you want him or her to appear qualified. Giving your staff technical titles inspires confidence in them. Finally, the welcome area should include a “”kid’s pit”” for children from about 2 to 8 years old. It should be designed with a half wall and a little step, setting it apart from the rest of the room, and should contain toys and books.
Once the patient passes from the welcome area into the interior office, the atmosphere should change. The interior office should be designed primarily to enhance patient flow and staff efficiency, and it should appear less homey, very clean, and more businesslike. We recommend a change in illumination between a brightly lighted welcome room and the interior office with lower illumination. Older patients may not be particularly mobile, so the less they must move about, the easier and faster they can make it through the office. Work stations should be provided for staff where they can catch up on paperwork. The business office, laboratory, x-ray and other specialty areas should be clearly set apart, and you should provide yourself with a room where you can get away. A consultation room is also important so that the patient and family members can talk privately. All doors should be clearly identified. Patients should pass through the welcome room again before they leave so that their last impression of your practice is warm and friendly, even though they may have received bad news. In addition to billing information, see that your patients leave with referral information, if appropriate, or some other literature about your practice.
We recommend using a medical architect to design your space. For a practice that grosses $500,000 per year, a properly designed facility can be one-half to one full person understaffed and still operate smoothly. Eliminating a half or full-time position can save you between $10,000 and $25,000 per year, and that savings can become your pension fund. In addition, a medical architect can help you meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, which are increasingly strict.
Because your office sends such a powerful message to your patients, you should not skimp on costs. Not only is it the place that sets you apart from your competition, but it is also where you make your living, and because of that, it should look better than your home. If your office is really state of the art, your increased revenues will allow you to have any kind of home you want.
To keep your office up-to-date, give it a face-lift every 3 to 5 years and a complete remodeling every 7 to 10 years. Just changing your color scheme will keep your office looking fresh and modern. A major overhaul should include, in addition to a new color scheme, new furniture, new equipment, and if needed, an expansion or even relocation. Patients like to know that their doctor is successful, and they will do more referring if they think you are. The importance of your office ambiance can hardly be underestimated. The message that your physical space sends is one of the most critical factors influencing the success of your practice. A “”Taj Mahal”” presents a more successful atmosphere to the patients than a “”Hole-in-the-Wall,”” thus aiding in retaining patients and generating greater patient referrals and revenues for the practice.
John W. Gay II, LLD, RFC, CIS, President of the Denver-based consulting firm of John Gay &Associates, has assisted more than 2,600 medical professionals with the management of their practices for over 16 years. Dr. Gay, a Registered Financial Consultant and a Certified Investment Specialist, speaks to professional groups throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has written articles for many professional journals. He may be contacted by calling John Gay & Associates, 303-690-2727. Chiropractic Economics acknowledges and thanks Drs. Alterman and Johnson for allowing us to photograph their office to illustrate this article.