How to create a happy patient

March 10, 2016

Ever thought about conducting a practice-wide communication audit? Before you begin, it is important that everyone understand that this means taking a hard look at communication failures. The process can begin with documenting patient complaints.

Ever thought about conducting a practice-wide communication audit? Before you begin, it is important that everyone understand that this means taking a hard look at communication failures. The process can begin with documenting patient complaints.

Most doctors and employees view complaints as proof of failure-a failure that they would rather not admit. Others see demanding patients as a confirmation of their suspicion that patients are out to get something for nothing. Both may lead to a culture of mediocrity in patient satisfaction that is customarily blamed on the patient.

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Experts say blaming others is a natural response. Human nature often leads one to dismiss failures. What causes patients to complain? It’s the moon, employees laugh. It’s funny to describe the “crazies” that come out when there is a full moon. Or maybe it is blamed on rude, over-the-top persons. You know the ones, obnoxious patients who need to be fired and seek their care elsewhere.

Communication is not perfect. During conflict, our wounded pride often generates a quick response that creates misunderstandings. Upset patients create a liability to our reputation as a caring, professional office. The path of failure avoidance is a huge growth-inhibitor in professional offices.

Have you ever realized your communication mistake and attempted to fix it, only to compound it? After a few ill-planned attempts, most give up; perhaps blaming the patient and hoping no one overheard. The good news is that the vast majority of our patients want us to succeed.

Employees need the doctor/owner’s positive support and encouragement to re-think conflict. Conflict arises from different viewpoints. It takes patience and confidence to learn to communicate tough messages with tact in a busy practice. When it comes to communication habits, there is no way to learn and grow without risk. Failure means that we are risking.

Most trainings spend your team’s time and energy exploring a hypothetical situation built around what would have happened if someone had said something else. That conversation achieves positive change only if everyone is on board with communication improvement.

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Even as we hold that staff meeting, often no one is fully committed to practicing a new word pattern. What most are looking for is a way to play it safe-a way to avoid the danger of a toxic patient. Most leave thinking it was the patient’s fault and the training was not realistic.

Strategically, complaining patients can become a  management tool for cultivating more business. By listening to the complaint and asking questions, the practice gains insights into why the practice is not growing. Often conflicts are founded in time limitations, unmet psychological needs, or value differences. Difficult patients, when offered solutions built on this understanding of an unspoken need, are the practice’s partners in growth.

Next: Team planning

 

Team planning

T

eam planning is more effective than planning on your own and ensures everyone has a stake in solving the core reasons behind patient conflict. Begin the conversation by asking your team the following: What do patient loyalty and excellence in patient care have in common?

The deliverable you strive for is Happy Patients. Webster’s defines happy as experiencing the effect of favorable fortune.

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Ironically, the wants and needs of happy patients align closely with the wants and needs of happy employees and being a happy doctor/owner.

Happy patients refer more patients, are more likely to purchase from your optical, and are more compliant with recommendations of continuation of care. Happy employees have been shown to be more productive, open to process improvement, and use less unscheduled leave.

Next: Managing expectations

 

Managing expectations

Patient happiness is often pre-determined through spoken and unspoken expectations. All eyecare practices treat unpleasant people. We also treat people who are frightened. Their psychological need is to receive the following strong message: The practice can help prevent preventable blindness and treat disease, and the optical products will allow clear, crisp vision in a variety of light conditions.

Employees are asked to reinforce this message as they go about their typical day, a typical day that also may contain too much work, stress, slow computers, and other annoyances. Though your employees strive to minimize these, waiting until everything is perfect at work would mean no one would ever be happy.

Patients take their cues from employees and the doctor. Happy Patients are possible when expectations align with results.

Expectations stem from three sources:

Unspoken. Cleanliness and professional language, for example. The same person who walks into an auto repair center expects less of employees’ language and the condition of the waiting area.

Advertised. What is advertised about the practice. This includes in-office brochures and signs, not just Yellow Pages advertisements. Caring and personable are adjectives often used. To the patient, this may mean employees make direct eye contact, smile, introduce themselves and others as the patient moves from station to station, and address the patient by his name.

Personal promises. These are those promises that fall so glibly from our lips. The doctor will be with you in just a moment. Your glasses will be ready on Tuesday. Hold for a minute, please. At the least, all of these messages represent a gross under-estimation of time. To the patient who walks in about to explode, each might be the match that lights a powder keg of fireworks.

Reputation is everything. Consistently having positive relationships with patients leads to a calmer workday and a higher level of productivity.

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The difficult patients’ criticism probably has some truth in it, even if it feels unfair or like an attack. Patients typically do not know how to give criticism in a warm, supportive manner. Look past the hurtful words and grow from the underlying truth. Conflicts don’t arise without cause. This means they usually do not disappear until the cause is addressed.

Unfortunately, some patients are not interested in helping the practice grow. The aim is to make us feel bad. If you are committed to using criticism as a part of your personal development, it becomes easier to separate attacks from helpful criticism. Sometimes it will be because the practice is the setting where the patient is when she explodes. Ask yourself, Is there anything I can learn from this situation, or am I merely in the path of someone else’s bad day?

As mentioned, patients refer others when they leave happy. Process change built on this simple concept requires a great deal of thought, preparation, and skillful application. An angry or defensive patient is two problems in one. First, deal with the patient’s feeling. Next, be a communication hero by concentrating on the information that may help you solve the problem..

Only by listening to and understanding the patient’s feelings and point of view will the patient listen to you. And that’s your practice’s cue to build value by illustrating how the practice solves the patient’s problems. When the patient’s perceived need for the offered solution is greater than his need to criticize, you have won the patient for life. And that is recession-proof practice growth that lasts a lifetime.

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