Ever wonder why some rheumatologists are more successful at starting or building a private practice than their peers? More than likely, their success is due in part to the patient-centered strategies embedded in their practices’ cultures.
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Although the ACR predicts a nationwide shortage of 2,500 rheumatologists within the next decade, many patients can still pick and choose which rheumatologist they want on their healthcare team, causing some practices to thrive while others stay stuck in neutral. Patient-centered strategies act as patient magnets, encourage patient referrals and boost patient satisfaction rates, which often produce a bigger bottom line.
6 Key Strategic Areas
Patients come and go for a number of reasons. Last year, the Harris Interactive Poll surveyed 2,368 U.S. adults, asking them to identify key areas that ensure a positive overall experience when visiting a healthcare provider. Here’s a summary of participant responses:
- Time spent with doctor: 58%
- Ease of making an appointment: 49%
- Efficient and simple billing process: 45%
- Ability to communicate with the doctor outside of an appointment, either by phone or email: 44%
- Time spent in waiting room: 43%
- Minimized paperwork: 32%
By focusing on just these six areas, rheumatologists can win over more patients, maybe even for life, says Donna Weinstock, owner of Office Management Solution, a healthcare consulting firm in Northbrook, Ill.
Consider long patient wait times. Although long wait times can’t always be avoided, office staff can contact patients when a doctor is running late, giving them the option to reschedule. Ms. Weinstock knows one doctor who apologizes for long wait times by handing out $5 Starbuck gift cards to patients.
When scheduling appointments, she says some patients must jump through hoops or respond to numerous telephone prompts. To solve this problem, consider creating an online patient portal where patients can schedule appointments, check test results and email questions to doctors that are answered within 48 hours. She says many doctors need to take advantage of technology, especially since the growth of their patient population will come from young, tech-savvy people. “Make every patient encounter simple, easy and positive,” says Ms. Weinstock. “It’s easier to meet patient expectations when you tell patients what to expect.”
Other Patient-Centered Ideas
A practice’s strategies can be quite diverse. Consider surveying patients about their needs and expectations. Host free, quarterly seminars on popular healthcare topics. Set up instant messaging on your practice’s computer system so office staff can alert doctors in advance about a patient’s specific health issues or to wish them a happy birthday. Some doctors even provide patients with cards that have words of wisdom printed on them, demonstrating that they care about their patient’s physical and emotional well-being. According to Ms. Weinstock, these types of practices make doctors more human, which makes patient encounters more human.
The Bottom Line
Most patient-centered strategies are nothing new; they’re mostly inexpensive tactics that have been promoted for years. Still, they tend to be ignored by the medical community.
“The things we were encouraging 10 years ago [are the same things] we’re still encouraging: to make patient visits about the patient and to make their experience positive,” Ms. Weinstock says. “The bottom line is treating patients with respect and kindness. That will never change.”
Carol Patton is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas.