Issue #34 – Through the Looking Glass – The Patient Perspective
Practices nationwide ask us about how to increase patient conversion and satisfaction. Questions regarding scheduling ratios, developing patients for life who purchase multiple services, improving online reputation through superlative patient feedback, and driving patient referrals abound. Alas, there is no magic bullet.
There is, however, a singular, somewhat simple concept that can pervade the entirety of the patient experience, which, if executed correctly, can lead to improvements in all of the aforementioned areas. As basic as it is overlooked, collecting, digesting and re-using personal information, a concept we call “Practice Personalization,” can be a special tool in your success tool belt. Read on to learn how to gather the right information, how to reference it, and the effect it can have on your practice.
A core concept taught at the annual YellowTelescope Training Seminar is the 7 Steps to Making a Sale. The first step is building rapport. To many this seems so obvious it isn’t worth mentioning, but if a practice does not create a feeling of connection with the patient she rarely will proceed. Further, some feel only someone supremely affable or outgoing is able to make the connections needed to improve a patient’s experience, but armed with the right process and questions (often referred to as “discovery”), even the least genial among us can create a warm repartee.
How to Build Rapport by Asking the Right Questions
First, set the stage. If you are a Patient Coordinator going in before the doctor, “insulate” the patient’s potential objection of “where is the doctor?” by letting her know your name, who you are, and that the doctor will be in shortly – with a smile. Let her know you always like to ask a few questions to better provide the most accurate information about treatments and procedures. Plus, it is one of the joys of your job to build lasting relationships and that process starts now.
Next, refer to demographics to help you ask the right questions. Check her address and then ask how long she has been in that area. If a patient lives a few blocks away from you, say so and talk about the local schools or restaurants. Check what she has written as her occupation (add this to your intake if it isn’t there), and ask them about it. Be genuine. If the patient works at the zoo and you love zebras, have a conversation about it. Ask questions until you feel you have a true point of connection that feels authentic. Do not fear asking about hobbies, what they like to do when they aren’t doing that job, or what their kids spend time doing after school lets out. None of the questions should seem interrogatory, but rather conversational, similar to small talk at a party. Make sure notes on their responses are written as they provide them, or at the very soonest opportunity, in the notes of their online chart, for future reference.
Ask yourself how often you are actually, truly, thoroughly gathering this information. (For even more about this specific topic, grab a copy of Jack Mitchell’s excellent book Hug Your Customers). Too often, especially in busier practices with high patient volume, this process can be rushed or ignored entirely. Rapport building is eschewed in the name of efficiency, with providers immediately asking about goals and concerns, jumping right to “the reason they are here”, in the clinical sense. But by merely asking these questions, you elevate the “reason” beyond just solving the problem they want corrected. Investing a few minutes, the patient feels heard and understood, and you’ve presented yourself not only as a professional who might be able to solve their problem, but as one who cares to understand the context within which the problem needs to be solved.
How to implement their responses into their care
What does all this information actually have to do with their care, let alone improving patient booking ratios? The details of how the patient lives her life illuminates how you are going to help, and when. Their family or professional situations will indicate their reason for seeking treatment. It will also reveal what they will have to plan around while recovering, as will knowledge of their hobbies and interests. Understanding their jobs, spouses, children, and commitments will ensure you understand personal motivation, budgets, and priorities. Knowledge, in sales, and in service, is power – looking through the looking glass to think from the patient’s perspective gives you the vision necessary to build business in a way where patients hug you after buying.
Here are a few examples outlining how to use the gathered information to prepare proper questions. When describing preparation for the procedure, don’t just give the basic textbook info, but let them know how they will have to prepare. Sommelier? Let them know when they have to stop slurping. Lifeguard? Let them know how long they have to stay out of the sun. The same goes for recovery. She has small children? Let her know how long she’ll need help caring for them, and when she can get back to playing with them. Trial lawyer? Let her know how long she’ll need to get back in front of a judge and jury and feel good about closing a case. Teacher who admits she is on a budget? Use this to help introduce payment plans or a conversation about money. Retired hedge fund billionaire? Use this to avoid taking time on finance plans or committing a faux pas. Professional baseball player? Confirm he is on the Cubs and then let him know you’d be happy to schedule him for surgery in November after he inevitably wins the World Series in October.
But don’t just utilize this information to help them get scheduled. Refer back to these details in every patient interaction. Take the extra 10 seconds to review their file before walking into the room. If they are still recovering when you see a patient for follow up, ask how it is affecting the family or the job. Use specifics and don’t be afraid to get personal. If he’s into hang gliding, reference you’re doing everything you can to get him airborne again. If she’s healed and assessing results, ask how it has made a difference. If you know he’s active at church, ask if anyone’s noticed, and suggest wearing a bright purple suit on Sunday to draw attention away from the rhinoplasty he just had. Have fun, be authentic, and take copious notes to “sku” your patient before arrival.
Take that 4 stars to 5
Holistically, the increased authentic connection with patients will affect their overall experience. Those who experience complications will be more forgiving. Those with good results will be more likely to provide a testimonial and refer patients. This can be the difference between a 4-star review and a 5-star review on the almighty Yelp! so many fear so greatly. Superb results alone do not lead to a satisfied patient who is likely to return. In fact, even a sub-par result can garner a top review if the patient feels the practice understood a patient on a personal level and had best interests in mind. By simply asking the right questions from the start, then using that information to paint the picture for the patient, and continually asking about their interests within the context of their treatment, you will convert more prospects, gather more and better testimonials, increase referrals, and gain a patient for life.