There is one thing that will make a difference in your long term success or failure. Your patients! As I’m sure that you’ve heard it costs substantially more to get a new patient through the door then it does to keep a patient coming back. Furthermore, it costs substantially less to get new referrals coming through the door than bringing new patients from external marketing. Not only is it less expensive to get referrals but referred patients are significantly more likely to book with your practice. So how do you do it, make sure every patient that walks out your door thinks that your practice is the greatest place on earth. They need to be so happy with their experience at your office that they can’t help but sing your praises from rooftops. Maintaining the patient experience as the core concept in every aspect of your practice is crucial to the long term success of your organization.
Unlike you, your patients get to experience every aspect of your practice and they do so with their eyes wide open. At every point of their interaction with your practice they are building their opinions of you and how well you may be able to care for them. They get to call and speak with your receptionist, walk in your front door into the lobby, fill out your paperwork, speak with your front desk staff, read your magazines (or hopefully marketing materials), sit in your exam chairs, and all this before you even get a chance to speak to them. 80%-90% of what a patient experiences in your office has absolutely nothing to do with you or what you do for them. It is all about the people, environment, and processes that they encounter on their journey to see you. As we all know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
This article series will provide you some points of consideration that involve aspects of your patient’s experience that do not directly involve you. Unfortunately, like most things, it takes time to identify areas of opportunity. It is important to look at this time spent as an investment. Let me assure you that spending tens of thousands of dollars on external marketing will bring you nowhere near the return of the hours spent focusing on how to make your practice a better place for the patients you already have. This series will include discussion of the following topics:
- The Phone Call – Patient Engagement
- Training and Education – Empower Your Staff
- Treatment Planning – Holding Hands
- The Cherry On Top – Follow Up
- Creating a VIP Every Time – Incentives and Loyalty
This first article will provide you a brief checkup of some of the key elements you should consider to uphold the best possible experiences for your patients. It is can be very enlightening investing the time to walk through this checkup yourself and not delegate it to a staff member that may not share the same vision for your practice.
The first thing you must realize is that the Patient Experience must be at the root of all decisions in your practice, from the lobby and exam rooms, to staffing and marketing.
One of the most important things you can do is periodically walk through your office as if you are a patient. Walk in the front door and spend 5 minutes looking at everything a patient sees when they enter your practice. Can you immediately tell what type of office you are in? What messaging is present, brochures, artwork, before and after albums, biocards? Is your lobby too cluttered? Does your check in counter have so many brochures or counter displays that a patient can barely see through to your staff? Often times staff throws any and every brochure wherever they can find space and your lobby turns into a billboard for every single thing you do, creating clutter and resulting in your message getting lost. Keep in mind what message you want to send to your patients. How do you want them to perceive your practice?
At Facial Aesthetic Concepts in Orange County California we offer a comprehensive array of aesthetic services. We offer all types of aesthetic plastic surgery. We have four PAs that handle non-surgical procedures, and four estheticians that provide skin care services. It never ceased to amaze me that even patients that are loyal, long term advocates of the practice are unaware of all the services we offer. They have experience with one or maybe two aspects of what we do but are unaware of the breadth of our service offering. We constantly struggle to inform patients of all the services that are available. Patients are here for surgery and don’t know we offer Botox or facials or worse patients are here for facials and don’t know we have surgeons and PA’s available. This disconnect exists despite the constant integrated messaging about all the elements of the practice. Your messaging must inform your patients about the services you offer and that YOU are the office that can meet their needs. Each time a patient walks into your office is an opportunity to inform them about what you can do for them. They have changing needs and your messaging needs to be dynamic to keep patients engaged and informed about the services and products you offer.
Following your review of the lobby, check in as if you were a patient, from start to finish all paperwork, online registration, questionnaires, etc. Is it simple, efficient, quick? Does it provide you with all the information you need to obtain from your patients? It is important that patients don’t feel your process is too cumbersome or they can be set off before they even see you. Are you getting all the valuable information that you need from a patient? A simple page of just a few questions can give you the details you need without overwhelming them. We use a one page sheet with 5 questions. What are your primary concerns regarding your appearance? What is most important to you in choosing a plastic surgeon? How long have you been considering plastic surgery? Is your spouse and/or family supportive of your decision to undergo plastic surgery? Do you have a time frame in mind in which you would like to have your surgery done? We find that these 5 questions give us a strong basis of information in order to better understand our patient and to more effectively communicate with them during the consultation.
Next, walk into each consult room and treatment room, sit down in the exam chair and look around. Is it comfortable? Is the room clean? Is everything in working order? A stain on the wall, ceiling or floor may not be noticeable by anyone but that patient sitting in the exam chair. Is the counter cluttered with instruments, boxes of gloves, sharps containers? Do you have propaganda for a patient to look at while they are waiting? I can’t emphasize enough; each moment a patient is in your office is an opportunity. Do you want them reading the latest edition of People magazine or learning about your new laser? These little details can mean the difference between booking a case or not.
If you use numbing cream for certain procedures what is the process for patients? Do they wash their own face or does the staff wash it for them? Are the towels and cleansers available and clean without stains? Are they soft or do they feel like sandpaper? All of these little factors play a significant role in how a patient perceives your practice.
One crucial and sometimes overlooked element in a practice is pre and post procedure instructions. Managing a patient’s expectations is often the difference in a happy patient and referral source or an unsatisfied patient and a bad review. Patients must be informed and reminded of pre and post procedure considerations and instructions. Despite our best efforts patients sometimes just don’t listen or don’t remember the things we tell them. The documents we provide them are usually all that they have to refer to and in some cases can mean the difference between a happy patient with a good outcome and a complication that will keep you up at night.
We usually create these documents and forget about them. Reviewing, updating, and ensuring that the staff is all using the same version of these documents will make a huge difference in alleviating headaches for you and turning your patients into advocates. Clear, concise, and easy to understand instructions are a major contributor to a patient’s long term satisfaction and referrals.
So after you’ve checked them in, got them prepared for treatment, collected their money, given them the best possible treatment, then what. FOLLOW UP! Consistent and thorough follow up is overlooked because we put so much focus on getting that patient in and treated. The message sent with follow up care can mean the difference between thanks for your money come back and we’ll take more and we care about you and want to make sure you are satisfied. A simple phone call made by a staff member means a lot to a patient. Even if it is just a voicemail that is left it gives that patient the feeling that you care. Even an email after a treatment to check in with a patient provides them with a means by which they can express concerns, possible complications, or sometimes just a means to give you opinions.
The post treatment period is really what differentiates a practice. This is when a patient needs to feel cared for and have their hand held. You and your entire staff become complacent with the magnitude of what your patients are going through. The procedures we offer are usually expensive and often life changing. You and your staff must always appreciate what a patient is going through and give them the appropriate amount of time and consideration. The amount of time and consideration a patient will need will vary widely from person to person and depending upon the procedure(s) being performed. It is important to have individuals in the office that are sympathetic to your patients and have an opportunity to reassure them that what they are going through is normal and that your staff is there to take care of anything that they need. In my office every surgical patient is provided a complimentary post-operative facial. During this facial they get an opportunity to relax and they end up speaking with the esthetician about their experience, problems, and feelings. These appointments frequently turn into counseling sessions and patients greatly appreciate having someone to talk to about their experience. It also provides very valuable feedback about how we can improve.
Finally, you must have some means of bringing your patients back to your practice and encouraging referrals. You must have an ongoing communication with your patients. Emails, social media, newsletters, events, anything you can do to keep patients engaged with your practice. You don’t have to offer discounts or specials but you must keep your name in front of your patients and provide a reason to think of you when they think of aesthetic services. Your communications with patients shouldn’t be ads though. You need to provide a value with your communications. Keep on top of recent events and information that your patients may want to know. Even if it is not directly related to your service offering news worthy stories will keep your patients interested in what you have to say. No one likes getting sold something. If everything you offer is “the next best thing” and that’s all you talk about your patients will stop listening. When information is presented in a way that encourages patients to read, eventually you can become the authority in your area and you won’t have to sell to your patients.
If there is one thing that you want your patients to do that is to tell everyone they know how great you are. Physicians vary on their perspective of rewarding patients for referring their friends. Some use letters to express appreciation, gifts, flowers, gift cards, etc. The important thing is that you provide them with SOMETHING that shows your appreciation. There must be some way of tracking and sending out some sort of token of appreciation to patients that are referring their friends. I like to provide gift cards to the practice. It incentivizes continued visits, provides patients with something they feel valuable, and is relatively cheap for me to provide. If you provide a $100 gift card to your practice to a patient for a referral, assuming a 50% operating margin, that only costs you $50 for a brand new patient and it may encourage a patient to try other services within your facility.
One important thing about gift cards for patients, do not make them restrictive to use. When I first began this program 8-9 years ago I had restrictions on the cards use. It couldn’t be used for Botox, for products, or fillers, it couldn’t be combined with other promotions or used with the doctors. What I found is that patients would stand at the checkout desk referral gift card in hand arguing with the front office staff about why they couldn’t use this “gift” that they were provided. A patient upset about their gift is certainly not going to go out of their way to refer more friends to get more “gifts.” Since I eliminated restrictions patients are thrilled with the discount they get from referring friends. They come in with multiple gift cards in hand excited that they just got exactly what they want and saved some money doing it. I see each of those gift cards as $400-$15,000 coming into the practice and even more referrals in the future. In the last 10 months we have had 917 new patients referred into the practice.
Unlike any other medical specialty, aesthetic medicine is a consumer driven business. Your patients are responsible for the success of your organization. An unwavering commitment to exceeding their expectations and ensuring their satisfaction will help grow and sustain your practice. It is not enough to simply put policies and procedures in place to ensure a great patient experience, you must continually assess how to change and improve along with your patient’s needs.