Money Matters Practice Management Having Patience with Your Patients
Having Patience with Your Patients
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Ray-Michelle-Aug-11Ms Michelle Ray:Last week, I had an appointment to see my doctor, who was running about 20 minutes behind schedule. Global research indicates that the average waiting time for a GP is about 22 minutes. Most people understand GPs are run off their feet, so they expect to wait – and they’re often not surprised if the wait is longer.

I am fortunate with my doctor. She takes genuine interest and apologises for any delay. Her pleasant manner is also reflected in her staff. They smile when a patient enters the waiting area, and they acknowledge each patient as they enter and leave. There are three other doctors in the same practice, and it is a very busy. What happened after that visit activated my “service excellence radar”.

During my visit, my doctor recommended that I have an x-ray. She suggested a medical building one block away with an x-ray centre where the wait time would be minimal. I arrived to find a packed waiting room. As I approached the receptionist window, there was a hand-written sign in thick black texta: “55 minute wait: One technician on duty”. The office assistant barely looked up and threw a glance at the sign. She suggested that I either wait or come back the next morning.

I chose the latter. When I returned the next day, there was no wait and the “55 minute” sign was gone. However, the receptionist provided minimal eye contact when I asked about the process as well as the timeframe for my doctor to receive the report. If I wanted to show the actual x-ray to another practitioner (a chiropractor), I would “have to call” because “we don’t deal with chiropractors”. When I asked for a card so I could have the telephone number, I was told “we don’t do cards”. She tore off a piece of paper from an examination request form. Their office locations with phone numbers were on the back of the form, as well as the company motto: “Care, Confidence, Comfort”.

It is important to understand the difference between these two service encounters. The first (the GP) was relational. The second experience was purely transactional. Whether it is the doctor, the receptionist, the lab technician ... the patient is left with a lasting impression of your medical practice. With the power of technology, they can instantly express their dissatisfaction online!

Tips to create a relational service experience with patients:

  1. Personally acknowledge unanticipated delays. Patients will feel the difference and be more accepting of the situation.
  2. Practise preventative maintenance to manage wait times (e.g. expect no-shows for booked appointments and be mindful of over-booking).
  3. Create a friendly, patient-centric waiting area. Invest in a cappuccino machine and good quality coffee.
  4. Establish a service-first culture and research best practises.
  5. Smile! It’s the most cost-effective way to reduce stress – for you and your patients.