From Customer to Patient—an Important Journey for Every Practice to Understand

In healthcare, we always speak to how “we provide patient-centered care.” It makes a difference; however, rarely do you see it done right. When you do, you understand immediately that this is the experience all patients deserve. As a physician or a practice leader, there are ways to continuously evaluate and improve your practice.

Recently, I experienced two diametrically opposed experiences in physician offices. One was extremely poor, and the other was a model of a well-run practice. It was stunning to me to see the differences and made me review key things that make the difference in an excellent versus a poor customer experience.

What is the customer journey that a person takes from selection to seeing a physician for the first time? The following provides you questions and observations that can be used in creating a map to guide your practice to success.

The Customer/Patient Journey starts for a customer/patient a long time before they get to your office. Understanding this journey is a useful tool that helps you evaluate and map out the steps a potential patient goes through when choosing and visiting an office. Where does this begin? What is the research that they do? How do they go from researching a problem or physician to trying a practice and becoming a patient?

Of course you have a website…that goes without saying. A couple of considerations though. Is your website mobile responsive? Is it up to date? Is it easy to navigate? Is the content current? Can you pay your bill online? Is there a way to easily get help?

Physician profiles and content are key—and that photo from 1990 does not work! Credentials aren’t enough. Video is the way to go. According to Cisco, 82 percent of all internet traffic by 2021 will be video. An Animoto survey suggests that four times as many consumers would rather watch a video about a product/practice than read about it.

So you pass the digital space and your practice is chosen. Ask yourself the question:  Is your practice really ready? A few questions to determine readiness:

  • How many times does your phone ring before staff answer?
  • How quickly can one schedule an appointment?
  • How long are patients waiting to get in?
  • Does your office close for lunch?

A readiness assessment asking these questions (and more) will help to identify if your practice is ready for new patients. It will also help you identify pain points for your practice.

Are there barriers between you and your patients? What does your office building look like on the outside? Is there enough parking? When one enters the building, is it open and airy or sterile? After entering your office, are there still more barriers? Do you still have the dreaded window of secrecy? What does the waiting room look like? Is there WIFI in the lobby, and is it easy to access?

Airline passengers view coffee stain rings on the tray tables as a sign (or proxy measure) of poor maintenance. Do those magazines from 2010 in your lobby suggest to your patients that your medical skills are also out of date?  First impressions matter – don’t let the outside and waiting area make the wrong impression.

How does the staff greet a new patient? Do they introduce themselves? Do they demonstrate a professional attitude on the phone and in person? Does the office staff have accountability? Have you created standard policies that the staff can easily understand and execute?

Office Staffs make or break an office experience. Patients will overlook small mistakes if you take the time when a patient is new to your practice. Consider these five best practices for front office staff.

When the provider enters the exam room, how is the patient welcomed? How much time is spent getting to know them? I worked with a pediatrician who saw a high volume of patients on a daily basis and very rarely had a complaint. His average visit time was 15 minutes. How did he do that? He was prepared prior to the visit. He listened. He was consistent, and every time he walked into a room he made it seem as though they were the only family he was seeing that day. He always talked both to the child and the parent and included them in the conversation.

Families saw that he cared even though it was a relatively short visit. The result was a busy practice where patients viewed that he truly provided quality time and that equates to quality care. A patient determines the quality of their clinical care based on their service experience.

Incorporating these listening skills into a provider’s routine could prove very useful:

  • Point your toes toward the patient and you’re more likely to listen.
  • Sit down if you can – for every one minute of sit down time, you get three minutes’ worth in the patient’s eyes.
  • Try saying the word “time” three times during the patient visit. For example, “How would you like to spend your time with me today?” Or before leaving the room he or she might say, “I have time for you – is there anything else you wanted to discuss today?”

Learn more about coaching providers to best service experience here.

At the end of the visit, ask how you did. What could have been done better today? It’s better to know and fix an issue early rather than waiting. If you are proactive, you will find out about the experience. If there is room for improvement, you can remedy this before they do a review on a website that you are not aware of or see after the fact.

If the experience was very bad it is likely you may never see the person again, and odds are they will put a bad review out on any number of review sites: healthgrades, Yelp, Google, etc. Asking how you did in the moment may help avoid this.

The patient journey is more important now than ever. With retail companies taking business on a daily basis, what does your practice have that makes you different? I invite you to consider doing a readiness assessment or a customer journey map. It can make all the difference in your practice.