How to create a positive patient experience.
By Kim Stamp
In today’s ever-changing health care market, owners and managers can no longer rely solely on the relationships they have built with referral sources to grow their practices. Even five years ago physicians largely dictated our referral patterns. Today, hospital-based clinics and physician-owned practices are aggressively attempting to keep their patients “in-house.” At the same time, patients have begun to take a more active role in their health care decisions. These shifts have forced private practice physical therapists to look for creative ways to enhance the patient experience to attract, and keep, new patients.
Companies like Nordstrom, Starbucks, and Disney inspire me for their models of customer service. These companies motivate me to think outside of the industry box when considering how we can offer our patients a better experience. In my practice, we want to connect with our patients so that we can capture their loyalty for years to come. We are aware that patients can choose to receive therapy wherever they would like, and it is our mission to win their trust as they embark on their healing journey.
Let’s take a brief look at how we can effectively and perceptibly improve our customer service practices. I want to note that there is an inherent difference between employing great customer service techniques and creating a customer service culture within our clinics.
First Impressions Are the Foundation for Lasting Impressions
First impressions, whether positive or negative, are powerful. We want to create a positive experience for each patient even before they walk through the door. The first phone call with a new patient will set the tone for how that patient perceives our company. If the front office coordinator is short, or rude, a clear negative message has been sent before the patient arrives for their first appointment. Simple things like making sure the front desk and waiting room areas are clean and uncluttered, and that our front office staff greets each patient by name, go a long way to setting the foundation for a positive experience.
Create a Culture of Connection
Contrary to what many believe, we are not here to “fix” a patient; we are here to partner with them in their rehab. We strive to engage with each patient on a personal level, and we seek to educate them that their visits are a continuously connected journey, rather than a series of separate appointments. If patients believe that each visit is a connected part of their healing process, they will be more likely to make it to all of their appointments. One way we can cultivate that sense of connectedness is by verbalizing a summary of what we did at the end of each visit, as well as giving the patient a preview of what they can expect at their next appointment. Finally, we can reward patients for “graduating” from rehab. We do this by giving them some type of gift at the end of their treatment and letting them know that we are here for them if they have future rehab needs.
Capture Your Patient’s Loyalty
As we have already mentioned, the health care climate has shifted considerably in the last five years. Patients are taking a much more active role in their health care, and this includes choosing where to receive therapy. Ultimately, we want to win both our patients’ trust and their loyalty. Quite simply, we want them to become patients for life, and we want them to refer their friends and family to us. One way to cultivate loyalty is taking a few minutes to write a thank you note to new patients after their first visit. Another is to hold monthly “perfect attendance” drawings in which the patients have the opportunity to win prizes for making it to all of their appointments each week. If your clinic has a Facebook page, you can post a picture of the winning patient along with their therapist and the prize they won.
In many ways, what we are attempting to do is not only to treat our patient’s physical condition, but also create a meaningful and positive experience for them. In doing this, we cultivate a lifelong relationship with our patients which in turn helps to keep our schedules full!
Kim Stamp is the regional business manager for South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Olympia and Tacoma, and the vice president for the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association. She can be reached at email@example.com.