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The roadmap to an amazing patient experience.

By Stephen Albanese, PT, DPT

As health care continues to evolve, the patient or customer’s need and desire to be a better and more satisfied consumer is evolving as well. The patient’s decision today regarding where to purchase health care service is based not only on the quality of care that they hope to receive, the convenience, the reputation, and the cost of care, but also on the expectation that they are purchasing a positive patient experience. What can you as the care provider do to provide an amazing patient experience as well as create a sustained competitive advantage for your health care organization? The answer: Hire staff that are clinically skilled and capable and train them to be customer service centered. Foster and grow an office culture where the goal is to provide the best care possible as well as an amazing and caring patient experience.

Providing that amazing patient experience truly begins with a service-oriented staff and a patient-oriented office culture. Let us examine two different office scenarios as examples of how a patient’s office experience could be outstanding or could be negative:

  1. Catherine, the customer service specialist, sees an elderly women getting out of her car to come into the office for therapy. It is raining outside. Catherine decides to assist the patient by taking an umbrella out and walks the patient into the office, covered from the rain by the umbrella. The patient is overwhelmed by the level of service and compassion Catherine has exhibited. The patient is not only more motivated to participate in her therapy, she is also more apt to return to the office should she ever need treatment again. She will also tell her friends and her family about the outstanding office experience she had.
  2. Mr. Jones comes to the office for an evaluation. It happens that the front office person did not take his insurance information when he called to make an appointment. He is now told that he cannot be seen that day. Mr. Jones leaves the office confused, frustrated, and still without clear direction on his course of care for the hip pain he is having. Sadly, the office staff hired to “serve” has not been properly trained in how to recover from this mistake. There are options to explore whereby Mr. Jones could still have had a positive office experience in spite of the mistake. As it stands, he probably will not return to this office for his treatment and likely will tell others of his negative experience.

Which example best exemplifies the service culture in your office? The challenge we face as business owners, employers, and caregivers is to consistently provide an excellent patient experience and to go above and beyond what the patient expects for service as often as we can. With that in mind, our office began a journey to map out the experience we wanted for our patients and to train our team accordingly.

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Our first step was to examine each of the touchpoints our patients had with our team, from very first phone call to the office to discharge. We determined that with each interaction with the patient, we had the opportunity to impact the experience we wanted for our patients. With this in mind, we discussed with our team everything we could imagine might happen, both good and bad, at each team member’s point of contact with the patient. We brainstormed solutions and positive outcomes for negative situations. As a team, we began to focus on ways we could not only go above and beyond in delivering great patient care to how we could make the entire patient visit to our clinic and all interactions more positive and enjoyable experiences. By anticipating patient interactions and discussing solutions and reactions to various patient situations, we have built a constructive framework for our team to work within.

Our next training initiative was to put into place the concept of the Platinum Rule.1 This rule is similar to the Golden Rule, with one major exception. It states that you treat others the way “they” wish to be treated. This concept helped us to better connect with our patients and to better understand their preferred style of communication and interaction. An example of this might be the caregiver needing to communicate with a patient who is analytical and likes to get to the point quickly. What is the best way to interact with this patient? The therapist’s communication style with this patient should be that of getting down to the business of the treatment and showing data/information to support the plan of care—no need for extra conversation. The Platinum Rule notes that there are four major behavioral communication preferences:

  • Directors: The Great Initiators
  • Socializers: The Great Talkers
  • Thinkers: The Great Analyzers
  • Relaters: The Great Helpers

If we always communicated with patients in our own preferred communication style, we would only fully connect with 25 percent of our patients. We encourage our team to learn the four Platinum Rule communication preferences, to decide what is the style or preference of their patients and to adjust their communication style to it. This adjustment will enhance therapist/patient communication, which will improve the overall experience the client has when in the clinic.

As service organizations and service providers, it is important to value and learn from the criticism and feedback received from customers and team members. It is not usually a single incident or criticism that will weaken a brand, but it is a gradual erosion of values and behaviors that is more often the culprit. This gradual erosion can sometimes be explained as “growing pains” or as temporary “lapses” but unfortunately, the lapses in customer service can eventually become the norm. Many times it is the practice owner and leader of the team who is on the receiving end of the often difficult to swallow comments and feedback from patients. We need to use these comments and criticisms to help prevent the gradual erosion of our values and service. As a third initiative, we look at the criticisms as information that gives us insight into the flaws in our systems, processes, and our training. What does not kill an organization can make it stronger—we must be able to recognize the value of feedback and criticism, analyze it carefully, acknowledge our flaws, and learn our lessons. It is only then that we can make the necessary changes and adjustments in order to better serve our patients. We have learned that it does not pay to be deaf or defensive in regard to feedback.

A fourth initiative we have in place to ensure an amazing patient experience is the recording of incoming phone calls. It is very important to ensure that phone calls are answered appropriately and that calls are used as the first opportunity to provide patients with an amazing customer care experience. We have 12 criteria that we look for with each incoming new patient call. These include: Did the customer service specialist (receptionist) sound friendly and helpful? Did the customer service specialist ask for the appropriate information; was the patient referred to our website for helpful information/forms? Was the patient offered an appointment within 24 hours and was the patient asked whom we may thank for referring them to us? Each call receives a grade, and the recordings are reviewed by the customer service specialists on a regular basis for training purposes. While listening to their calls, customer service specialists fill out a self-evaluation document, which helps to provide a framework for continuous self-improvement. Because the potential patient’s first impression of the care experience begins with their first phone call to the office, the lessons learned from the recorded calls and their review are invaluable. Not only are calls an opportunity for an initial great impression, a poor impression can mean hundreds of dollars in lost income if the patient decides to go elsewhere for treatment.

One of the ways that our practice monitors the outcomes of our team training and service-centered initiatives is the use of the Net Promoter Score Survey2 questions. The survey is completed by our patients, their answers providing great insight as to the level of satisfaction they have with the care and service provided by their therapist as well as the likelihood that they would return for future services or refer friends and family to our clinic. This survey also provides an opportunity for the patient to indicate what in their opinion could the therapist or team do to improve on the experience they had at the clinic. The survey results are read carefully and discussed. No suggestion or compliment is dismissed.

As practice owners, we have the great opportunity and responsibility to shape the experiences we desire for our patients. Each team member should not only perform their clinical responsibilities well but also diligently search for opportunities to go above and beyond to provide an extra special customer experience. After a patient’s pain is gone, their mobility has returned and time has passed, they may not remember what type of mobilization they had or the name of the crazy exercise they did, but they will remember how we made them feel. Not that they felt just physically better and pain free, but that we made them feel better as people because they were listened to, cared for, and made to feel important. They will remember an amazing patient experience!

References

1. Alessandra, T., Zimmerman, J.S, LaLopa, J, Dr. (2007). The Platinum Rule for Sales Mastery “Do Unto Others as They Want Done Unto Them” New York: Morgan James Publishing

2. Access Physical Therapy and Wellness, http://accessptw.com. Accessed December 2015.

Stephen Albanese, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and owner of Access Physical Therapy & Wellness. He can be reached at salbanese@accessptw.com.