8 Ways to Improve the “Patient-Doctor” Relationship

Want to know what keeps patients coming back and telling their friends about how great your practice is? The one that is five times more important than anything else?

It’s their patient experience. I’m sure you never make the following mistake, but here’s what happened to me, when I got a call from my doctor this week.

It was a front desk person on the phone, who we’ll call Jill, to give me test results from my last visit. The call started as they often do…with Jill confirming who I was and telling me why she was calling. But then Jill burst into laughter and told me that she had just called another patient with the same name, but who lives in a neighboring town, and had given my test results to that person.

Then it got worse! Jill started to tell why that was so funny…revealing personal details about that patient.

I like a joke as much as the next person. Still, as the patient, I didn’t find it nearly as funny. Not only did she commit two HIPAA violations, but she was also laughing about it. That one phone call soured my relationship with a practice I had been going to for years.

What kind of impact can a bad practitioner-patient relationship have on your practice? Consider these statistics on patient experience:

  • Unhappy patients tell on average 9 to 15 people about their negative experience.
  • 38% of unhappy patients switch practices.
  • It can be 25 times as expensive to replace that patient than to keep them.
  • If that unhappy patient leaves a negative review, 94% of prospective patients will see it when evaluating your practice

That one unhappy patient could be a real problem.

The Patient Experience Is All About the “Doctor-Patient” Relationship

Now we’re sure your staff knows not to violate HIPAA rules.

But are they aware of how their conversations, their tone of voice, and demeanor can affect your relationship with a patient?

After all, there are a number of ways you can improve the patient experience, from making the waiting room comfortable to reducing wait times. But the most critical factor in patient loyalty is the relationship you and your practice personally have with them.

Patients are willing to wait a long time for a practitioner they trust and feel genuinely cares about them. And they tend to be more loyal to someone they have a relationship with, in spite of a bad experience.

So how do you develop that kind of trust? Here are just a few powerful ways. (Here are more ideas on improving the patient experience.)

8 Ways to Improve the “Patient-Doctor” Relationship

  1. Make your practice patient-focused.

    Believe it or not your relationship with a patient begins before you even meet them. More than 80% of people will look you up online before contacting you. Your website is their absolute first impression of you and needs to start to develop trust. Does it speak to their needs? Does it answer the questions they’re likely to ask? Does it portray you as someone they’d want to know?

  2. Pay attention to your reviews.

    Almost all patients will look at your online reviews and 72% of them will rely on reviews alone to decide whether they’ll give you a try. Do you have enough reviews for your practice? Are they positive or negative? Making sure you have a steady stream of positive reviews will make patients inclined to trust you and give you the benefit of the doubt. (If you’re struggling with this, let’s talk. We can help.)

    You may also like What You Need to Know About Negative Reviews

  3. Train your front desk.

    After a patient looks you up and checks out your reviews, if they like what they see they’ll give you a call. Play Undercover Boss and look at your practice the way a new patient would. When you call your own practice, how are you treated? Is your staff putting the patient first? Are they asking the right questions?

  4. Make it personal.

    When you go to a practitioner, do you want to feel like a number or a person? If you want to develop a relationship with your patients, make every encounter feel more personal. Use their name when speaking with them. Review their chart details before you walk in the room so that when you walk in you’re not asking them to remind you of why they are there.

    Note in the chart any pertinent information such as the name of caretakers who attend the appointment and any major events going on in their lives and then incorporate these details into your conversation. The patient will appreciate being remembered and the appointment will feel more personal.

  5. Eliminate interruptions.

    The patient probably had to wait to get an appointment with you. They also waited in the waiting room. They may even have waited in the examining room. When you walk in the door, this is their time. They’re expecting you to give them their full attention. Don’t allow the appointment to be interrupted unless it’s absolutely necessary.

  6. Speak with, not at, patients.

    Two of the biggest complaints patients have is that they feel they haven’t been heard, or that their time with the practitioner felt rushed. This all comes down to the way you communicate with them.

    Make eye contact when they are speaking.

    Make sure that when you ask questions you’re listening to the answer. Repeat back to them what you heard to make sure you got it right. Most importantly, make sure you continue that back-and-forth conversation straight through to the end of the appointment.

    Explain what you think the issue might be and how to address it. See if the patient is OK with your proposed course of action. If you’re giving instructions, pause and check in with the patient to make sure they don’t have questions. What patients really want is to solve a problem, and you need to make sure when they leave they feel as though they’ve done that–that all their concerns were addressed and that they have next steps they are comfortable with.

  7. Set expectations.

    At the very end of the appointment, make sure the patient knows what to expect. If it’s going to take a few appointments to get their hearing aids programmed correctly, tell them that. If they aren’t going to see any progress for a few weeks, make sure they know that. If the braces are going to hurt for a few days, warn them and tell them how to deal with it.

    Patients can be very understanding and patient if they know what to expect.

  8. Follow up with patients.

    Most practitioners will end an appointment or patient experience by saying something like, “If it’s not better by the end of the week, give us a call.” If you want to make the patient truly feel special, don’t tell them to call you…call them to find out how they’re doing. Even if it’s someone from the front desk calling, they will feel remembered and appreciate that you took the time to make sure they were doing well.

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