Editor’s Note: “Getting paid” involves multiple steps, of course, and one of the first steps is getting patients in the door. And then keeping them as loyal “customers” of your practice. This article from expert Betsy Nicoletti outlines some key considerations for getting paid before you ever touch your medical billing software.
“I was at the Internal Medicine practice the other day, and the waiting room was filthy.”
The patient’s first impression of a physician office is rarely the physician. Rather, the first impression is formed long before patient and physician are in the exam room. The patient has already interacted with two, three or four staff members, knows how easy or difficult it is to talk with anyone by phone, and can see for themselves if the office is dirty, clean, chaotic or professional. The patient’s perception of the physician comes after that.
Phone system: Automated attendants, mailboxes, never-ending loops all give one impression: we are too busy to talk with you. Our work is more important than you, even if the recording says, “Your call is important to us.” Look at the busiest phone times, and have staff available to answer the phone during those hours. If patients can’t talk to someone, how can they make an appointment to be seen? Try calling in on the front line to see how long it takes to reach a staff member.
Check-in: “If the red light is on, the receptionist is talking on the phone.” This is how one practice tells waiting patients why the receptionist is not checking them in. The receptionist is talking on the phone, and that’s more important than talking to you. It is time to get the receptionist off the phone, greeting the patient.
The décor: signs on plexiglass: Some practices took advantage of privacy regulations to put up plexi-glass barriers between check-in and the patient. Certainly, it makes the check-in process more private, if less personal. But, as if that wasn’t enough, too many practices tape notice after notice on the glass. “Don’t call us between noon and one.” “Don’t expect us to renew your prescriptions on a Friday.” It is reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz: “Go home, Dorothy.” Imagine a welcoming environment. The plexi-glass is clean, clear and without anything taped to it. Policies are written in a patient handout. Important notices are framed. Signs about co-pays and referrals can be purchased from a vendor. The language is positive. “Please give us 24 hours notice for prescription refills,” rather than “We don’t fill prescriptions on a Friday.”
Dirty, dingy, dusty: The carpets, the walls, the chairs: are they clean or stained? Do you want to sit down? Are the chairs comfortable? There is no excuse for a dirty reception area. The exam rooms, hallways, bathrooms and every publically viewed area must be eat-off-the-floor clean. Take a fresh look at the appearance of the office, particularly if the building is old. To attract patients who care about their healthcare, the office should care about its appearance. New paint, new carpets, fresh waiting room furniture and most importantly, cleaning staff that comes frequently enough to maintain an absolutely clean facility.
Chaos through the glass: Employees like to personalize their work areas. Everyone has a different idea about how to organize paper work for the next day and current work. But, a practice must have standards about the visual appearance of work areas that can be seen by patients. Employees should put away stacks of papers and notes that are not being used. Better yet, create electronic files. Sticky notes on computer screens should be outlawed. Hire an electrician to organize cables and wiring. The physical space should give the impression of organization and professionalism.
“Did you see her outfit?”: A professional office has a professional dress code. This includes standards regarding footwear, skirt length, tightness of pants, denim, visible tattoos, and jewelry. Everyone in the office represents the practice. Patients see staff members before seeing the doctor, and each one should represent the practice as professional, caring and up-to-date. Find a dress policy and institute it in the practice.
As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In the case of physician practices, the patient receives multiple impressions before meeting the doctor. Work to make those impressions good ones.
Betsy Nicoletti is the founder of Codapedia.com, a wiki for physician reimbursement. She is a nationally known speaker and consultant, and can be reached at www.mpconsulting.org You can hear Betsy in a recent webinar sponsored by Kareo on What You Can Do to Prepare for Medicare Payment Reductions.