This week we dived into how general practices can provide exceptional customer service to patients during check out. Here are our top 8 takeaways.
1. Say goodbye
If you only do one thing at check-out, because you’re flat out helping patients check-in or book appointments, make it a gesture of your hand to farewell patients. Better yet, say goodbye. The fact is last impressions count. Even more than first impressions studies conclude.
“A study of 292 students showed that, in the short term what you present first is important (the primary effect), but after a period of time it is what you presented last that is most important (the recency effect)”
The study required participants to listen to a tape containing contradictory descriptions of 8 hypothetical persons. In the first case, each character’s good attributes were listed first and not so good attributes listed last. In the second version, the personal descriptions were reversed.
Participants were asked after each test to indicate their feelings toward the character. In almost all cases the studies showed that the last impression had a greater effect on people’s perceptions than the first.
This was evident in interviews HotDoc conducted with patients in 2017. A 48 year old woman from New South Wales described, “It’s a long reception desk. There’s three [reception staff]. They face the front door. When I’m leaving, they’re looking right at me. It would be nice if they said, ‘Thank you’ and waved. I don’t want to be stopped for a giant conversation, but something more than a blank stare would be good”.
2. Prompt patients for feedback
In the same interview, the 48 year old woman from New South Wales went on to describe, “I’ve never filled in a customer satisfaction form. I’ve never been asked if there is anything more they can do. They don’t have any type of evaluation that I can see and I’ve never received anything in the post, or email, or phone calls”.
While this is not to throw blame on clinics — after all it would be impossible to ask every single patient for feedback — it does raise an important point that many patients want to give feedback. It makes them feel their voice is heard and that their perspective counts. And, the best part? It helps clinics improve.
As HotDoc’s Clinical Director Magali De Castro shares, “The easiest and most underutilised resource in improving the post-appointment experience for the patient is asking them themselves what they think”.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to getting such feedback, as Julie Tatnell, Practice Manager at Midtown Medical Clinic, explains:
“It’s difficult asking people at the desk to actually provide feedback. People feel obliged to do it when they’re asked face to face, and when the girls are busy, it’s particularly difficult”
One way around this, however, is using an automated feedback tool like HotDoc’s Patient Feedback. The system offers pre-built surveys for general patient satisfaction, and to meet RACGP accreditation requirements, and sends the surveys automatically to patients following their appointment as an SMS.
In a trial using HotDoc’s Patient Feedback tool, Julie Tatnell shared:
“Being something that’s sent to patients by SMS means they can easily dismiss it if they want, which is fine, but it’s also something they can do if they wish… All I have to do is use the link to check the responses. It’s seamless”
3. Explain any additional charges
Despite how valuable the service you provide is, cost is almost always a concern to patients. And, while you don’t want to make money the baseline of your conversation with patients, if you want to provide patients with an exceptional check-out experience, it is crucial that you clarify any unexpected charges when it comes time for payment.
This can be as simple as pointing out an additional cost and explaining why it is there and how it benefits the patient. For instance, how the cost accounts for the additional time spent with the doctor, additional charges for travel vaccines, nurse consultation fees etc.
Psychologist Kathleen Vohs has conducted numerous studies on how the very mention of money and savings can trigger us into a selfish state, and often creates conflict when paired with family issues, due to conflicting interests.
So, why raise the topic of cost then? Because most patients are already thinking about cost when they get a higher bill than they are expecting. The point is to neutralise the feelings they are most likely already experiencing, and then to move on to other topics, such as next steps in their treatment.
4. Book in follow-up appointments
Another simple and yet effective way to provide patients with a good check-out experience is to offer to book them in for any relevant follow-up appointments. While this is often a part of the clinical process, to keep patients engaged, you may be surprised to learn just how much more effective booking patients in on the spot is compared to sending postal reminders.
A study of 2,116 patients compared the success of pre-scheduling follow-up appointments at the time of check out (74%) versus sending postal reminders for follow-up appointments (54%). The difference in methods equaled 652 patients per year.
This study is particularly insightful considering that, while postal reminders may be perceived as a little dated, they are certainly more effective than doing nothing.
5. Provide a flyer about an upcoming service
If you’re looking to go above and beyond in keeping your patients engaged with your clinical services you may also want to consider handing out flyers about upcoming services, such as flu clinics, or information about services relevant to them, such as travel vaccinations.
If you want to create a flyer on your own I suggest canva.com. The platform is free and offers hundreds of templates to choose from. It is also very easy to use. Simply drag and drop your own text and images on top of the professionally designed templates.
Alternatively, you can save yourself a lot of work by hiring a graphic designer from a platform like upwork.com. Here you can hire talented freelancers from all over the world for very competitive prices. The best part about using a freelancer is that, while there is usually a bit of back and forth getting the first project right, once they understand your brand and practice values, they can give your clinic a competitive edge.
6. Invite patients to a workshop
To keep patients proactive about their health, and your practice front of mind, you may want to consider taking things one step further and offering workshops or classes, once a month, or even once a quarter.
Dr Mukesh Haikerwal’s team at Altona North Medical Group run cooking classes to help patients take responsibility for their own health. In an interview with HotDoc, he shared:
“Those who have done [the cooking classes] are really excited and enjoyed them… they’re transforming the way many people think about their health. Suddenly getting healthy is no longer unachievable”
Dr Mukesh described, “We do groups of four… six… eight people. They work with a nutritionist or a dietitian, who runs talks about what their diet might look like in a week. We might look at what they spend on takeaway and then look at the nutritional value of such a meal. And then we’ll compare that to a healthy home cooked meal. We’ll do a weekly menu, do up a bit of a budget, buy the ingredients, prepare the ingredients, cook everything and then, when they have finished the class, they have a week’s worth of food”
7. Ask patients to join an email newsletter
One of the most effective ways to keep your practice front of mind is to produce an email newsletter, even if it’s just quarterly. You can use the newsletter to share helpful articles and videos you’ve stumbled upon, or as a way of promoting your own content.
If you’re considering starting a newsletter, but don’t want to commit until you’ve tested the waters, consider MailChimp.
MailChimp’s Forever Free Plan lets you have up to 2,000 subscribers, and send up to 12,000 emails per month, free of charge. The platform is also by far the easiest of all the email providers to use.
If you already run an email newsletter you may be interested to know that for the medical industry the average email open rate is 22.43% and the average click through rate is 2.42%. This means if more than 22.43% of patients are opening your email, and if more than 2.42% are clicking a link within the email, you are performing better than average.
And, while this doesn’t sound like a lot, it is a significantly higher number than none. And, remember, even if a patient doesn’t open the email, they’re still reminded of your practice when your name shows up in their inbox.
8. Schedule a follow-up call
One final suggestion for gaining patient feedback and wowing patients at check out is to set up a follow-up call for select patients. As HotDoc’s Clinical Director Magali De Castro explains, “The call can just be to say, ‘Hey, you came in for this reason a couple of days ago. We’re just checking in to see how you’re going. Has your situation gotten better?’”
Magali explains, “Most clinics don’t have this in place because it is time consuming, but from a customer experience point of view, this is a big area the US has been working on getting right, with many clinics setting KPIs for nurses and clinician staff around the number of patients they contact for a courtesy follow-up. If a patient’s condition hasn’t resolved, then another appointment is offered for clinical re-assessment”.
Not only does this provide patients with improved continuity of care, while painting your clinic in a positive light, but it also helps better fill your doctor’s schedules.