December 7, 2018
Written by: Scott Williamson
I was reading a book by Elizabeth Woodcock called “Front Office Success” that inspired me to write this blog. She says, and I agree, that customers today often feel like they are treated like they are a nuisance instead of the reason that a company is in business. What if your patients feel like they are a nuisance? I don’t think anyone intentionally treats people unkindly, but when they are busy or have other things on their mind, their actions may give the wrong impression (remember the blog on “stories?”). Capturing and keeping the loyalty of patients is a long-term challenge. It’s something you must strive for every day and with every transaction and interaction, no matter how big or small. We talk about the need for a culture of respect at our “Fundamentals of Excellence” conference and how to effectively implement change in your organization. Follow these “Ten Tenets of Good Service“ to keep your patients knowing they are your number one priority.
- Greet patients warmly and sincerely. Try to personalize each encounter by greeting and acknowledging each patient. Why? Patients form lasting impressions of your practice as soon as they walk in the door or call on the telephone. And don’t forget to smile, even while on the phone. People can hear the difference in your demeanor.
- Listen to patients. Make sure patients have a chance to express their thoughts and feelings. Why? Whether it is a simple request or a complaint, patients want to feel like they are being treated as individuals.
- Use names. Always introduce yourself and call patients by their desired address (Mr., Ms., or Mrs.) and name. Why? It’s another way to make the encounter with your practice personal and memorable for patients.
- Be prepared to help patients. Learn the front office procedures you are asked to perform and the technology you are expected to use. Take time to understand more about your practice and how it works. Why? Seeing the bigger picture and knowing why things are done the way they are and who to go to for help better positions you as the patient’s guide and advocate.
- Go the extra mile. Closely linked to the previous tenant about being prepared, look for opportunities to show empathy and understanding and think of ways you can help patients navigate registration, waiting, and other processes. If your patients are not English speaking, consider learning a few greetings for them. Wall, Tucker, Roncoroni, Allan, and Nguyen (2013) found that training office staff on cultural sensitivity can have a positive effect on patient satisfaction and patient treatment adherence. Why? It can make a lasting and positive impression on patients and help you enjoy your job more too. Studies show that people who support others rather than always receive support are happier.
- Show respect. Keep patients informed about delays and apologize for them. Why? Team members who show respect to patients help reinforce their impressions of your practice’s service and help create a good impression of its quality of care.
- Make time to de-stress. Don’t skip the lunch breaks or other short opportunities for downtime you might have. If things are really busy, then at least stand up, stretch, and take a few deep breaths when the opportunity arises (that is, without holding up patients who are registering). Keep a picture of your family and/or pet near your computer to look at; and remember that your patients are somebody’s family member too. Why is it important to control stress? Because stress on the job leads to lower performance, fatigue, and a host of other problems that won’t put you at your best.
- Avoid office politics and gossip. Steer clear of gossiping about patients and other staff members. Avoid getting ensnared in office politics, such as power struggles between employees. Why? Though they are hard to avoid, especially in a small office, gossiping and office politics destroy morale. Try to focus on what’s best for patients and your coworkers.
- Be a team member. Be supportive of your coworkers, jump in to help when they need it, and take an interest in training and offering suggestions for improvements to your supervisor. Why? When coworkers can, trust and respect each other, the day runs much more smoothly and everyone’s a winner—patients, the practitioners, your coworkers, and most of all, you.
- Think of every interaction you have with patients, coworkers, and your supervisor as an opportunity to get things done and get them done right. Why? Communication makes all types of businesses, including medical practices, run better and serves their customers (patients) better.
Because we are in this setting every day, we forget that our patients might be going through some very confusing and hard times. Imagine that you are a patient, and you are going to a strange office to have a device made for you. This can seem scary for some, and others may have a lot of questions.
Although these ten tenets can apply to many types of business settings, they are especially important in a person-to-person service setting like your O&P practice.
The front office encounter is the first impression and can set the tone for the entire visit for the patient’s care. With a positive experience when they walk in the door, your patients will be set up for a successful visit at your practice.
Scott Williamson, MBA, CAE(ret), is the Executive Director of the OPIE Choice Network. He founded and is President of Quality Outcomes, LLC., a company dedicated to establishing a consensus building approach to identify broad-based Orthotic and Prosthetic (O&P) outcomes data to identify and teach professional best practices. Scott was recently certified in Lean Six Sigma.
Scott is a member of the National Quality Forum and is active on the Quality Measures Research Council. In addition, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Orthotic and Prosthetic Learning, he is a member of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and is past-chair of the Healthcare Knowledge Taskforce for ASAE. He is the President of OPAF and is Treasurer of the Pedorthic Research Foundation Board of Directors. He has worked in professional certification since 1992, and most recently worked for the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics, Inc. (ABC) from 2002 – 2010 as the Director of Facility Accreditation. In that position he played a key role in establishing and maintaining the national standards for quality O&P care. Scott has been a key liaison between the O&P profession and CMS during the development of the CMS Quality Standards and their mandatory accreditation program. In 1995, Scott earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Richmond and his undergraduate degree is in Management Economics from Hampden~Sydney College. While earning his MBA, Scott worked for MWH MediCorp (a hospital holding company) where he developed and maintained billing and performance data and was responsible for corporate safety and security. In 2005 Scott earned his Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Scott is a frequent speaker on value-based healthcare and its impact on the provision of O&P services, as well as business process improvement and change management in a small practice setting. He has taught DMEPOS accreditation processes and standards and explained the CMS Quality Standards. Scott, his wife, Colleen and daughter Nicole live in Fredericksburg, Virginia.