We’ve all heard the timeless adage: “You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression.“ In healthcare, this is true perhaps more than in any other environment. Experts say it takes on average only 7 seconds for an individual to form their opinion of you. So, what do your patients experience when they arrive at your practice? You can use our Quality Assurance Observation Checklist and the guidance in the video below to quantitatively and easily observe the front-line support staff at your medical practice to identify opportunities and celebrate exemplary customer service and patient care.
Reviewing our recent healthcare customer service articles, below are ten front-line service training tips for medical staff that are essential to providing an environment of courtesy and respect for your patients:
- Eye Contact is Essential- To create an environment of courtesy, it is essential to make eye contact with the patient. When you look a person in the eye, you communicate confidence and belief in your message. By looking someone in the eye, they are also more likely to listen to you. Failing to make eye contact, makes you look less believable, and less confident and reduces the likelihood the patient is listening. It is important medical staff remain focused on the patient, and not distracted by computers, phones, personal devices or other employees.
- Personal Details Matter- Whether it is your favorite restaurant, retail store, or doctor’s office when personnel/staff members remember specifics about you, it makes you feel special. It could be a simple question about your family, or a pet, even a hobby, the personal details matter. A couple of key points:
- Always address patients by their preferred names.
- Make a point to find out about your patients beyond their medical history.
- Ask patients about their jobs, children, travel, and hobbies.
- Use Patient’s Preferred Name– “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie. Using a patient’s name is one of the quickest and most effective ways to make a positive impression. It is also a sign of courtesy and respect. Always ask the patient what their preferred name or nickname is and use that. Attempt to use the patient’s name more than once during your conversation and offer your name as part of the exchange. Throughout the conversation listen for, and use small, personal details that make the patient feel special, such as asking about their children, grandchildren, pets, or hobbies.
- Active Listening is Key-Active listening is a way of listening and responding to an individual that improves mutual understanding. Typically, when individuals are speaking to one another, they are not always listening attentively. Often, we get distracted, half listening, half thinking about something else. Listening effectively is something that very few people do. However, by listening more efficiently, you will get more information from patients, it will increase their trust in you, and it will also help reduce potential conflict. Always, use non-verbal cues that show understanding which include: making eye contact with the patient, smiling, nodding, showing concern, and asking open-ended questions. Also, use brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Thank you,” or “I understand.”
- Avoid Medical Jargon- Words do matter to patients. Medical jargon can lead to poor communication and reduced understanding for patients. Speak slowly and eliminate or at least minimize the use of medical jargon. Keep explanations simple and described at a comprehension level that a non-medical person would understand.
- Be Aware of Body Language– Body language is a form of nonverbal communication or a language without spoken words. It plays an essential role in communicating with people. Good body language assures the patient that you are not only hearing, but listening to them, and builds confidence and trust. It is of particular importance that front-line medical staff practice positive body language. A few helpful points to remember include:
- Maintain proper and open body posture
- Always face the patient
- Ensure consistent eye contact
- Avoid fiddling with things that may distract yourself or the patient
- Don’t cross your arms, turn away, or stand with hands on hips
- Avoid biting nails which signifies nervousness
- Avoid looking around or at something else while the patient is speaking
- Ask Open-Ended Questions. Open-ended questions are questions that result in the patient responding with more than a head nod or a “yes” or “no” answer. It is important to ask these types of questions in health care because you will gather more information on the patient which could potentially be helpful in diagnosis, treatment, or other critical areas. Some examples of these questions include:
- For example, try saying, “Tell me how I can help.”
Instead of asking, “Do you need any help?”
- Request information from your patient by saying, “Tell me about the help you have at home,” instead of asking, “Do you have help at home?”
- For example, try saying, “Tell me how I can help.”
- Always Show Courtesy and Respect. When it comes to courtesy and respect, most standards of behavior seem basic and make “common sense.” However, if not applied intentionally, and practiced with every patient, proper standards of behavior will soon be replaced with old- habits and less-than-desirable behaviors. Patients interpret courtesy and respect through much more than just the words used. Non-verbal cues and tone of voice, communicate much more to our patients than our actual words. A few important points to remember:
- Make Eye Contact
- Use Personal Details
- Actively Listen
- Avoid Medical Jargon
- Be Aware of Body Language
- Waiting Room Rounding- Communicating with patients about wait time and making an effort to express awareness that their time is valuable is key to giving patients a positive impression of their office visit. It also has the highest correlation to overall physician office satisfaction and the largest variance between average and best practice scores. Whenever the patient wait is approaching 15 to 20 minutes, designate a support staff member to “round” the waiting area updating the patient(s), which will help with patient expectations and improve patient perceptions of having to wait.
- Effective Telephone Etiquette- Every practice should have, (and probably does have in most cases) guidelines for answering the phone. Here is a sample script:
“Good morning (or afternoon), thank you for calling [Practice Name], this is [your name], how may I help you.”
Smile as the phone is answered.
Patients can hear whether or not voice and tone inflection is pleasant and welcoming, or irritated and bothered. Develop and use the phone scripts so that everyone knows what to say and responses come across as very natural. Create a consistent experience for the patient. Make the wording of the scripts work for your office protocols and guidelines.
For a deeper dive into these tips and other helpful patient experience, service improvement, and practice management videos, subscribe to our MedicalGPS YouTube channel.