What your urology practice's appearance tells patients

Aug 01, 2010

The owners of most medical practices feel confident in the service they provide and believe they are both meeting their patients' needs and making a good first impression. But are they? Taking a critical look at the average practice, I'm not so sure.

I have seen more than a few practices get off track with how they look and how their staff members act. This article shows you some traps that many practices fall into-and how to avoid them.

Here's what some patients experience when they go to their doctor: They enter an office that looks a little worn-tattered furniture and accessories and beat-up carpeting; in other words, an office that gives "shabby chic" new meaning. This certainly doesn't give the practice the crisp, fresh look that would make patients want to be there. An inviting reception room is an important aspect of the patient's visit and what he or she thinks about you. Upon walking into an ugly reception room, a patient might begin to wonder if the physician is also out of date and not in sync with the times when it comes to relevant clinical issues.

Next, the patient checks in and sees a receptionist who is wearing surgical scrubs. It's bad enough that the receptionist is wearing scrubs; nowadays, we see those scrubs in drab colors like brown or black-nothing cheery or positive about this experience. Think about it: A patient who isn't feeling well takes the time to get properly dressed to come to the doctor and is greeted by a receptionist who looks like she is wearing pajamas. Why doesn't the front office wear appropriate casual business attire and give a really good impression? Scrubs might work well with the clinical staff, but they would really look more professional wearing uniforms or lab coats.

What do patients overhear when they are in the reception room? They may be hearing personal conversations between co-workers, which does not reflect well on your practice. Patients don't want to hear someone talking about the argument they had with a friend the previous night or a discussion about a staff member's interaction with another patient. Even if they're careful not to use names, when Heather tells Kelly, "That patient was a grouch," it's not appropriate, and it sure doesn't sit well with your patients.

Is the check-in station clean?

Next, what does a patient see when she is standing at the check-in station? I was recently in a practice where my visual impressions were anything but great. I saw clutter on the desktop, papers and notes taped on the wall, cardboard boxes stacked in a corner, and electrical cords strung across the floors. I also saw food containers and snacks at some workstations. This is taking "casual" to new limits and doesn't show much respect for patients or visitors to the practice.

Show concern for patients

When a patient is called from the reception room by the nurse, does the nurse politely wait for the patient, walk side by side, and make him feel comfortable, or does the nurse walk ahead and leave the patient to follow behind with little or no direction?

Clinical staffers are so busy and caught up in what they are doing that they fail to listen carefully and pick up a patient's cues. If the patient seems apprehensive, don't ignore it. It gives the impression that you don't care and makes the patient worry and feel unimportant. The nurse can surely put him at ease with a few words of comfort. If it's his first visit, the nurse can reassure him that selecting your urology practice was a wise decision.

When a busy urology practice deals with days that seem unending, it is easy to get pre-occupied and forget to view actions from the patient's perspective. Every staff member needs to be an ambassador for the practice and a host to each patient.

It's important to do a patient service audit of the practice from time to time to make sure everyone lives up to expectations. Are you doing the best you can when it comes to customer service, comfort, and patient satisfaction? You may discover that some simple changes or a little staff training can completely transform the patient experience. Then again, there may be bigger practice management and workflow issues that need to be fixed. Either way, get a game plan and get back on track with making patient comfort and service a priority in your practice.

Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of Take Back Time- Bringing Time Management to Medicine . She can be reached at 805-499-9203 or judy@capko.com
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MODERN MEDICINENETWORK

EDUCATION

Management consultant Keith Borglum, CHBC, discusses how to calculate the number of active patients in your practice. Read: http://www.urologytimes.com/active

How will new technologies affect your need for staff? Experts discuss the impact of practice additions such as EHRs at: http://www.urologytimes.com/tech