How Not to Lose a Patient in 10 Simple Steps

The most valuable component of your private practice is not your advanced skill set, your friendly staff, or even your coveted location. If your practice is going to succeed, then you must recognize that your most valuable asset is your existing client base.

It’s a widely held belief that it costs five to ten times more to acquire a new client than to keep an existing one. This figure is disputable, but the principle behind it is accurate: Your clients are the linchpin to owning and operating a successful private practice. Typical of all small business owners, you face the daily challenge of not only obtaining new clients, but also building brand loyalty amongst your current client base.

Successful physicians will tell you that 80 percent of the strategy in building a recurring client list is addressed by the right private practice philosophy: You must think of your patients as customers who have the freedom to choose other physicians. Once you begin thinking this way, the other 20 percent of your strategy is to implement this philosophy.

Below are 10 easy, systematic steps you can take to ensure that your clients keep coming back. While some steps are obvious, others may force you step outside of your comfort zone and think like a customer instead of a physician.

1. Real People. In your fast-paced office environment, it can be expensive and impractical to have a live person answer the phone. Because most businesses now use an automated answering system for taking customers’ calls, the practice has become so ingrained in our culture that few people bristle at the use of this “merry-go-round” system. However, regardless of how common a practice it is, you should have a friendly, real-life person from your practice call your patients whenever possible—especially for reminder and follow-up phone calls. Such a personalized effort will make a lasting positive impression on your customers.

2. There Is a Place for Texts and Emails. We live in a technology-driven world, so about half your clients will be tech savvy enough to receive and respond to text messages and emails. But be considerate of those clients who are not. Naturally, if you operate a geriatric practice, then you will be less likely to use technology than if you operate a pediatric service. In either case, you should seek to maintain a balance of using both telephone and technology communication methods. And remember, despite your best efforts to utilize the computer for appointment reminders, some clients will always need to receive a phone call.

3. Waiting Room Protocol. Upon entering your waiting room, the patient should be greeted by a clean and tidy area. Reading materials, health programs looping on the flat screen TVs, and a clean children’s area all make for a pleasant waiting room. Make sure a staff member is assigned to cleanup duty several times a day to keep the waiting area cleared of incidental trash.

4. Customer Service. Since you are no longer treating your patient as “just a client,” but as a customer, make sure you’ve implemented superior customer service from start to finish. A friendly greeting from the receptionist will go a long way in setting the tone for the visit. The process for filling out paperwork and collecting the clients’ insurance cards must be organized and smooth.

5. Respect Privacy. Reserve any discussions regarding the patient’s insurance, payment plan, or health issues for the privacy of the examination room. Even if such conversations are conducted in hushed tones, having those discussions in the waiting room will make your patients feel as if they’re in the spotlight.

6. Waiting Is the Hardest Part. Strive to keep the clients’ wait time to a maximum of 15 minutes. During this time the receptionist should offer bottled water to the patients, and coffee should be available from a self-serve station in the waiting room.

7. Be Hospitable. Beyond putting your patients at ease in the waiting room, treat them as your special guests and give them your undivided attention in the exam room. Also, the different areas of a doctor’s office can be confusing. So be sure that someone on your staff escorts patients to and from their examination rooms—and all while addressing the patients by name.

8. Be Honest. All doctors run late from time to time. It happens in even the most efficiently run offices. But when you’re running more than 15 minutes behind, be honest and tell your patients directly. Give them options to reschedule their appointments and ask if there’s anything they need while they wait.

9. Have an Exit Plan. Before your patient leaves the office, be sure they are clear on payment issues, follow-up appointments, and the doctor’s instructions. Offer them a business card magnet, a pen, or some other marketing device that will remind them of your name and number.

10. Follow Up. Whether it’s checking on your patients’ conditions or thanking them for their visit, your office should have a follow-up procedure in place that reminds patients that they are valued and appreciated.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these 10 simple and easy-to-implement steps will go a long way in transforming your patients from one-time clients into loyal customers. And don’t underestimate the power of a satisfied customer. Their word-of-mouth referrals combined with positive Internet reviews of your practice will lead to a steady surge of new customers and an ongoing reliable base of returning ones.

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