Are you providing great service? Ask your patients

November 1, 2006

It's easy to spot the complainer, but that is the exception.

Most urologists and their staff assume they are meeting the needs of their patients, but with major demands on their time, they seldom stop to ask the patient, "Is there something else I can do for you?" If you want your current patients to come back and to keep the referrals flowing, it's time to find what your patients really want.

Start by having a staff meeting to discuss signals patients send, both on the phone and in the office, and how you can respond to those signals to ensure your patient satisfaction level is high. It's easy to spot the complainer, but that is the exception. Once everyone in the office makes a conscious effort to pick up each patient's attitude and behavior, you will be amazed at the subtle messages patients are sending you. There are the quiet, sullen patients, those who seem agitated or curt, and the ones who are just plain sarcastic.

It's important to be supportive and, at the same time, make sure that the patient's attitude has not been triggered by something you or someone on your team has done. You can simply ask, "Is there anything I've done that has upset you?" Good eye contact and being a good listener go a long way in supporting your patients and making them feel important.

Patient opinion cards

Next, why not have your own service card for each patient to complete at the end of their visit? It doesn't need to be complicated. Ask a few simple questions that, when answered, tell the story. Have a rating scale of 1 to 4: poor, fair, above average, and excellent. This eliminates the tendency for patients to pick the middle rating. Here are a few questions to ask:

These cards are meant to constantly keep your radar up and understand how your patients feel about their visits and you. However, keep in mind that this is not a statistically valid method to gauge overall patient satisfaction. I suggest that patient satisfaction surveys be conducted and analyzed by a professional surveyor unrelated to the practice. A medical marketing consultant can help you with this. Yes, it requires an investment, but it is essential to obtaining and analyzing quantitative information that is reliable and representative of the population you serve, eliminating the potential for biased results.

A qualitative patient satisfaction study requires an open exchange of information between the surveyor and the patient. A survey instrument needs to be developed to ensure the information you collect is consistent. This, and the interview itself, should be done by a professional who is skilled at gathering information without leading the patient. Conducting a post-encounter telephone interview is the preferred method of collecting this information.

Once you obtain baseline results from the patient satisfaction survey, you will know what your patients want and how they feel about the practice. Armed with this information, you can set defined improvement goals and make the "patient experience" all that it can be.