He called on Mother’s Day. “May I speak to her?”, he asked. My jaw dropped as I listened to my fifteen-year-old daughter, who was recovering from ACL knee surgery, talk with her Orthopedic Surgeon. He was calling just to see how she was feeling. Even though my wife provided our daughter’s current status and answered all his questions, he wanted to take a minute to talk with the patient for whom he cared. It was awesome that Dr. Steward called to check in with his patient. One might even expect such a call. But, when he ended the conversation with my wife asking – “May I speak to her?” – he just created an awesome experience – patient satisfaction for both the patient and her parents. It was as if he put extra sprinkles on a baked cake…marketing at its finest.
Doctors Business Management Show
In this episode, Mike DeVries & Co-Host, Ben Lane, visit with Ron Hartley from Solutionreach to discuss the benefits of online marketing strategies for medical and dental practices. An effective patient engagement platform will help a practice in several ways, including:
- REMINDING patients of their scheduled appointments, which will reduce the cost of “No Shows” and free up staff time
- RE-APPOINTING patients into the practice, which will help you keep patients in your practice and from going “Out the Back Door“
- REMEMBERING your Patients special days, like their birthday. Doing something special for your Patients will make a Great Impression.
- REALLY CARING for your patients by educating them about their health and well-being – it’s what patients want from their doctor.
- REVIEWING and effectively surveying your patients to determine their satisfaction levels, which can be discussed with your team members at your Morning Huddle.
- RECEIVING patients online – today’s generation is using their technology and the Internet to search out their doctors.
- REFLECTING on your marketing plan and seeing the effectiveness of various campaigns and strategies.
Just for Fun
Ben Lane had a great idea to surprise our Guest, Ron Hartley from Solutionreach, with a Martin Guitar – an instrument Ron enjoys playing. This surprise resulted in Ron sharing his musical talent with us. Internal marketing can be fun! In fact, if you use the right tool, it can even be music to your patient’s ears.
Check out Solutionreach over a Cup of Coffee
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Mike DeVries is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™, Enrolled Agent, and a Certified Healthcare Business Consultant focusing on helping healthcare professionals. If you would like to learn more about becoming a client, contact Mike at www.vmde.com.
Peter Drucker, who was known for his leadership in the development of management education, once said, “Work implies not only that somebody is supposed to do the job, but also accountability, a deadline and, finally, the measurement of results —that is, feedback from results on the work and on the planning process itself.” If you wish to manage your business effectively, it is important to establish measurements or benchmarks for the purpose of creating accountability for your company and to determine if you are meeting the overall objectives of your business strategic planning. The measurements you define will also help your employees more clearly identify with your goals as well as provide you with an assessment tool for evaluating performance of your team.
Doctors Business Management Show
I started using Social Media when my oldest children were teenagers – let’s just say, more than a few years ago. I wanted to know what they were doing on-line and I figured that having a Facebook account with them was a good way to learn how to use Social Media. At the time I started using this technology, it wasn’t the rage. In fact, many thought it was just for kids. I remember saying to my partners at VMDE that our clients in the future would be communicating with us this way. Doctors entering practice today are more adept at using technology and communicating through various modes of Social Media. I suspect that this trend will continue to grow. As a result our delivery of services continues to be impacted by the associated use of technology.
A successful business seeks to know what its customers want most and then delivers. Starbucks, one of the best-recognized and admired brands in the world, has made connecting with their customers a key ingredient to their business culture and their “bottom line”.
Healthcare is moving from a “business of volume” to a “business of value” and your patients’ perception will be a key factor in the determination of value. With that in mind, you have to ask yourself – what do my patients want from me? Interpreting this can be a challenge. Do they want lower fees? Easier payment plans? The latest meaningful use technology? Evening hours?
Surveys have shown that the amount of waiting time patients experience in your office has a direct impact on their satisfaction with your office as a whole. Merritt Hawkins, a physician search and consulting firm recently completed a survey of patient wait times measured in the number of days it takes to get into the office. The following, Key Findings, is a summary of their research:
In his book Everything is Marketing, Fred Joyal writes, what they want is less tangible but almost universal when it comes to healthcare providers. Study after study shows the same thing. The number one thing patients want most is to feel that the doctor and his team care about them.
In my discussions with clients over the years I have heard some great stories about the care given to patients and the difference it makes in both the life of a patient and in the life of the doctor. Sometimes, from my seat, it seems that the business of healthcare is too focused on finances, taxes, and cash flow. While a business can’t survive without healthy profits, it may be good to remember that healthcare is really about caring for the patient. But, then, you knew that right? After all, you have the “best seat in the house”. Thank you for caring. Keep practicing on purpose!
Do you have a good “Chicken Soup” story of a recent doctor and patient encounter? Share it with me. It will keep me buckled in my seat helping you mind your own business.
Mike DeVries is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™, Enrolled Agent, and a Certified Healthcare Business Consultant focusing on helping healthcare professionals. If you would like to learn more about becoming a client, contact Mike at www.vmde.com
So often we are scared.
Scared of what we might not be able to do.
Scared of what people might think if we tried.
We let our fears stand in the way of our hopes.
We say “no” when we want to say “yes”.
We sit quietly when we want to jump in.
And we shout with other when we should keep quiet.
we only go around once.
There’s really no time to be afraid.
Try something you’ve never tried.
You have nothing to lose.
everything to gain.
Most major new products or service ideas begin with your customer or your patient. Listen to your patients for ideas, clues, service enhancements, what are they asking for to make their life better? When you receive the same question from your patient base more than twice, you have an opportunity to innovate a new product or service as their healthcare provider. When this happens, look for low-cost, easy ways, to take action on your idea. Don’t be Afraid to Try something new – don’t lose out on the opportunity to make a difference. An idea with no action = imagination. An idea with action = innovation.
How are you being innovative with your customers? Everything you do is marketing.
Checking patients in and out of their appointments in a friendly and efficient way is a complex process that leaves a deep impression – for better or worse – of your practice. Because first impressions are often lasting ones, leaving this process up to chance is not a risk you want to take.
When patients enter your office, are they seeing the image of your practice you want to convey?
If not, educate your staff about the specific image you want to convey and provide the standards to support it. By establishing high standards, you eliminate mixed messages patients might get if they see another patient getting more personal attention or courteous, discrete service. While all office staff has a role to play in achieving high standards, the office receptionist is the first contact a patient makes when he walks through the door. Her efforts to maintain those standards need to be supported by the rest of the office team.
Here are some “check-up” tips to consider for your check-in and check-out procedures that will assist you in making that first impression a good one.
- A clean, well-organized front desk and reception area will go a long way toward creating a positive impression and making patients feel comfortable.
- Desks and work areas visible to patients should be neat and organized. Establish rules about eating and drinking in the reception area. Ensure that confidential phone calls to insurance companies by your billing personnel be made outside of earshot of the waiting room.
- The front desk should be configured to help the receptionist efficiently perform her duties. For example, have a copy machine available to copy insurance cards, driver’s licenses, and referral or pre-authorization information. Some practices let receptionists lose valuable time by requiring them to walk to the back office to perform these simple tasks.
- Consider using “cheat sheets” to assist staff in answering questions about insurance co-pays, hospital/lab phone numbers or directions to your office. The station responsible for collecting payments should have a cash drawer and credit card machine available.
- A good receptionist has a demanding position that requires she courteously deal with difficult patients, scheduling delays and other problems. Making small improvements in the working conditions lets her know her skills are valued. For instance, consider providing a telephone headset that allows her to handle calls and appointment changes without getting a cramp in her neck.
- Staff should arrive at the office before the first scheduled appointment. This would be a good time to hold an informal staff meeting to discuss the upcoming day’s appointments, open slots, potential problems, and other short timely topics.
- Unless you have implemented an electronic charting system, patient charts should have been pulled or created for new patients the night before or prior to the day’s first appointment. A list of the scheduled patients and appointment times should be prepared and ready for the receptionist as each patient arrives. This will allow for proper greeting of the patient along with an efficient means to follow-up with the patient through-out the visit.
- A friendly, attentive receptionist can reduce the anxiety of a doctor’s appointment. Does your receptionist make eye contact when speaking with patients? Does she listen and respond rather than spout rote phrases? Standard scripts can be helpful in ensuring that office policies are followed, but they must be flexible to accommodate individual situations.
- To assure confidentiality, patients should be signed in on a list that’s kept next to the receptionist instead of on the counter. Patients requiring special assistance should be escorted to a seat in the reception area and then to the examination room.
- New patients should be pre-qualified during the appointment scheduling and reminder calls. Before the patient arrives at the office, you should know what type of insurance coverage the patient has; whether you are a participating provider in that plan, and if your practice provides the services needed. All such information should be in the patient’s chart and verified upon arrival.
- Be sure to verify the patient’s address, employer and insurance plan at the check-in time. It is better to ask the patient to provide this information than to assume that “everything is the same”, which could create billing or reimbursement delays. This is also a great opportunity for specialists to obtain the patient’s referral and/or authorization form.
- Whether a practice collects co-payments and deductibles at check-in and check-out depends on the practice’s philosophy and type of services offered. For all practices, however, it is important that the patient be aware that payments for which the patient is responsible are expected at the time of the visit. Providing patients with a copy of your written financial policy as part of a welcome packet or prior to their visit with you can be helpful for having this discussion.
- If a follow-up appointment or referral letter is needed, handle it immediately. If the patient will be sent to the hospital, a lab for tests, or to another practice, provide directions and a phone number along with the appropriate forms. If necessary, make the appointment for the patient.
- The receptionist should know the co-payment, deductible and other fees due for the visit and politely request the payment. Here’s a courteous way to phrase that request: “Mrs. Smith, your co-payment for today’s visit is $30. Will you be paying by cash, check or credit card today?” If the patient has forgotten her checkbook, provide a stamped, self-addressed envelope so that the check can be mailed as soon as she arrives home. By not expecting appropriate payment for your services, you are implying to the patient that your knowledge, skill and care are not worth the fee you are charging.
- Before the patient leaves, ask if there is anything else you can do. Conclude the visit by thanking the patient and, if appropriate, relaying your concern for his or her well-being.
You will need to modify your procedures from time to time. Regularly schedule discussions at your staff meeting about how to handle a difficult patient; resolve scheduling problems, adapt to changes in insurance information; doctor delays, and the like. As new problems arise, the entire staff can work on providing a solution.
Having experienced many cold winters here in Michigan, there is one saying I heard as a kid and often repeated to my own children – “Close the back door. We don’t need to heat the garage!”
Dental practices that are experiencing the effects of a slow economy might want to take this saying to heart as it relates to the number of new patients they add to their practice. The average dental practice saw approximately 20 new patients per month in 2011, according to data collected from practices across the country. If you are thinking, wow, what do I have to do to reach that goal? Or, twenty a month? I’m knocking that down by the end of the second week of the month, be careful. Comparing yourself to benchmarks can be helpful, but you need to look at the bigger picture.
Begin this year by establishing the number of active patients you currently have in the practice. A good definition of an active patient, is a patient that you have seen in the practice within the last eighteen months. Then, at the end of each quarter, add to this figure, the number of new patients that have joined your practice. Next, subtract the total number of active patients at the end of the quarter. If the result of this computation is positive, great, your practice is moving in the right direction. If, however, the result of this exercise is the same or lower, you may need to “check the back door”.
Keep in mind that every practice will experience patients leaving. The key here is to track and know why they are leaving. Is it because they have moved away? This happens all the time, but do you know it? If your patients aren’t leaving because they moved out of the area, then it’s likely it may be for a reason or perception that you and your team can change before your schedule feels a major impact.
In his book, Everything is Marketing, Fred Joyal explores several reasons that patients leave a practice. They include the following:
- Your Practice doesn’t offer what they want – Let’s face it, people talk! If they hear about the latest whitening program or dental procedure from a friend and never hear about it from you, then they just might be leaving because they perceive that you don’t offer what they desire. You do offer a whitening program don’t you?
- They don’t know what you do – Begin with the assumption that if they aren’t told at each visit, they don’t know. In my opinion, having a brochure by the checkout counter on a snore guard, or a television ad running in the lobby that demonstrates the benefits of the new laser equipment you are using, doesn’t count as telling them. It only supplements what you and your dental team communicate as part of your continual standard of care.
- They think you are too expensive – Having done many fee analysis over the years, I know that the typical dentist isn’t too expensive. Often, I end up showing a client that their fees are below the average for their locale before they will actually adjust their master fee schedule to a recommended charge. Here is a little secret for you – patients don’t leave because you increase your fees. They leave because they don’t value what you do for them. Building up the value of dentistry in the minds of your patients is a process of communication that you and your team need to work on continually. This communication begins with you, believing in the value of your services.
- Their insurance changed, and you don’t accept it – I’m not an advocate for participating with every dental preferred provider organization that comes your way, but I do think you should research the plans and understand how they work. Prepare a brochure for your patients entitled, Dental Plans: What you Need to Know. Most likely your patients don’t have a thorough understanding of their plan. Once educated, many will choose to stay with you, their preferred dentist – even if that means going out of network and paying more.
- They are embarrassed about how long they’ve put off their recall – I recently went to see my family physician and I know, from first-hand experience, that I felt a little sheepish saying to the receptionist who couldn’t find me on her computer screen – “Might you have changed practice management systems within the last eight years?” I have a dentist client who says, “I hate bugging patients about keeping their appointments”. To which I reply, “You aren’t bugging them, you are simply showing them you care!” This is the last reason Fred points to as a reason a patient might be leaving your office.
- They don’t believe you care – I once had a general dentist call me after being referred to a specialist to have a wisdom tooth extracted. “Mike, I’m just calling to find out how you are feeling. Did everything turn out alright?” You show a patient you understand their discomfort or go out of your way to simply acknowledge them in some way and you show them that you care.
Adding new patients to a practice can be tough in any economy. Be sure to enhance your marketing efforts this year by Minding Your Own Business and “Closing the Back Door!”
I recently saw a brief segment of the show Dr. Phil where he was interviewing a young woman who had not yet seen a gynecologist. Even though she had been informed of and seemed to understand all the medical reasons for going to this specialist, she avoided making her first appointment. Her own sister tried to coach her into taking this important step for the sake of her own health and yet she resisted and would not comply. It wasn’t until she met a gynecologist on Dr. Phil and gained a sense of “knowing” this doctor personally and becoming comfortable with a real person, that she agreed to have her first gynecological exam with this particular physician.
While I’m not a regular viewer of Dr. Phil, I was glad that I had caught the few minutes of this particular show. It made me think about what my clients are facing many times when they see their patients for the first time in an exam room. It also confirmed for me that patients will delay making an appointment with a doctor because of emotion – they are most likely terrified. Helping your patients overcome this fear is key to the growth of your business. So, how is it that you can take strides in assisting your next potential patient “get to know you” and make an appointment?
- Is your website up to date with information about you and your staff that will allow a potential patient the opportunity to gain an initial impression?
- Does your web presence allow your patients the opportunity to tell their friends about you?
- Do you have a “meet the doctor” time built into your initial appointments? Or do you have an occasional “open house” where a potential new patient will have a chance to meet you?
- Do you make a point of calling or sending a note to patients that will be coming to your office for the first time?
- Are you active in your community? And do people see you as a “face” that cares about them outside of the office?
- What do you and your staff do everyday to connect with the patients that you see in the office?
You became a doctor because you are passionate about caring for people and their health. Let people get to know you and see your passion for them and you will take hold of your future.
Mike DeVries is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ and a Certified Healthcare Business Consultant focusing on helping healthcare professionals. If you would like to learn more about becoming a client of Mike’s, contact him at www.vmde.com