The doctor-patient relationship is a bond that has existed throughout time and will never cease as people will continue to seek medical expertise and relief. But this relationship does not mean that doctors will always have patients especially those that have a private practice. Doctors of all walks require a steady flow of patients to maintain and build their practice and this steady flow is based on a few factors. The factors comprise marketing, the doctor-patient relationship, facilities available at the practice and the overall quality perception of the practice.
There are three scenarios when a doctor may be faced with the challenge of limited a patient base to sustain their practice. The first scenario is when a doctor has just opened a new practice and they need to attract new patients to the fledgling practice. The practice is not well known to the people and therefore, some awareness through a strong web presence, advertising, social media and word-of-mouth may be required. The second instance is when a practice is moving to a new location. The practice may suffer a decline in patient numbers and thus need to generate awareness just like a new practice. The third instance is when the practice is not holding onto its existing patients, possibly due to poor services. Patients will slowly move to look for better services with other practices and eventually leave the poor practice with a dwindling number of patients.
So, the greater question remains; how do practices faced with these three challenges overcome these trials? A general response to the question would be for the practices or doctors to find a way to attract and sustain new patients.
Understanding Doctor-Patient Bond
It is paramount for all doctors to recognize that the patient is key in their relationship. Doctors pursue their careers to help the sick; a fact that already instills the art of compassion in them. Patients normally undergo difficult situations in dealing with their illnesses and coming to confide in a doctor can make a difficult situation even more uncomfortable. The doctor is at first, often considered a stranger but the patient will typically confide in them based on an expression of trust and belief that the doctor will address their issues. The nature of the doctor-patient relationship is based on trust and belief. Trust that the doctor will exercise doctor-patient discretion and the belief that the doctor will use the patient’s information and their specialized skills to work towards healing the patient.
Apart from being cured by the doctor, the patient responds well to how well the doctor communicates. Communication forms one of the most fundamental talents a doctor should possess in administering their task, especially when relaying information to the patient. Communication skills can be improved by demonstrating empathy, sensitivity, and discretion.
All Patients Are Unique
After starting to comprehend the relationships they hold with their patients, doctors need to acknowledge that all patients are different. Hence, they react differently to results, medication, and treatment. Remember, the doctor-patient relationship is wrought with a number of sensitive issues. This forces the doctor to be agile in the manner through which they relay information. It determines with what delicacy a doctor relays good or bad news, discusses treatment with a patient or relays the death of a loved one. It is important that no matter the sensitivity of the information or the reaction of the patient, the communication is a success and the patient is satisfied.
Some patients may be irritated at a doctor for the news they have given while others may shut down on the onset of grave news. Doctors should be gifted with the right communication skills that will enable them to explain the tense moments and drive the point home. Such an ability finds a doctor’s practice to be patient-centered and thus wields more clients to the business.
Modeling Customer Experience
For doctors, customer experience means going above and beyond to ensure that the patient is satisfied with the services rendered. Measurement of the customer experience is a tool used by all businesses in recruiting new customers and retention of already existing businesses. The doctor-patient relationship should assume that the patient is the one paying for the services being offered. Rather than receive the standard services from the doctor, the patient should get more than required.
For instance, sensitive information is too grave for a patient to receive in one sitting and therefore, a doctor could follow up with the patient to acknowledge whether they understood the information given to them. A patient who has just been diagnosed with cancer may not be in a position to understand the news being given to them as it is grave. A doctor may make a follow-up call to find out whether the patient understood the news at the time and maybe expound on some matters about the ailment. The patient will take into concern that the doctor is caring and would probably schedule another appointment with the practice.
These attributes are based on the relationship the doctor has with their patients. When practiced, they are likely to elevate the position of a practice through an increase in the number of patients visiting the facility.
Thinking Outside the Box
From a patient’s point of view, a doctor is supposed to be confident in what they are doing. A patient will only trust a doctor if they believe that the doctor is confident and knows what they are doing. This can only be achieved when the doctor does exactly what they stated to the patient that they will do in the course of diagnosis and treatment. If the doctor does something contrary to what they had earlier advised, then the doctor comes out as second-guessing themselves or not sure about what they are doing.
According to the Journal of National Medical Association, an article written by Dr. John T. Givens states that the first reason why patients leave their doctors or a practice is that their doctors fail to exude confidence, especially when handling new patients. New patients are tricky to handle because they look for validation to why they should continue seeing the new doctor. From this standpoint, the patient is likely to fault the doctor on very little issues like failing to establish a rapport with the patient.
Patients don’t want to be handled by overly serious or intense doctors. They want someone who can exhibit genuine friendship as well as portray their love for the profession. From a critical stance, this is what makes doctors relatable to their patients and cultivates more trust in the part of the patient towards a doctor.
Thinking outside the box calls upon the doctor not to simply promise the patient that they will get down to the problem but actually do it. That when traditional methods fail, the doctor is capable of thinking outside the box to ascertain other ways of solving the problem.
Follow Up Appointments
Follow-ups may seem to be a standard process for practices but you will be surprised at how many doctors fail to inform their patients when they are required back. In most cases, it is the assistant or the practice’s secretary that inform the patient when to come back for a checkup and in some way, affects the perception a patient has for the doctor. It is perceived as more personal and serious when the follow-up decision comes from the doctor and not one of their staff.
Follow-ups can be categorized into three levels depending on the situations. The first can be for the diagnosis results. The doctor takes samples and conduct tests in order to determine what a patient is experiencing. This may take days and therefore, would require the patient to come back for the results at a later date thus the need for a follow-up session. The second category is a follow-up linked to the progress of the patient where the doctor would require the patient to come back for an evaluation. The evaluation entails examining how the patient is responding to medication and treatment. The third follow up category can be based on clarifications. The patient may have struggled through receiving a critical diagnosis and may not have been in a position to understand fully what the doctor was saying. Therefore, it is important for the doctor to schedule an appointment to clarify the patient’s situation and further address concerns.
Follow up appointments show the patient that the doctor cares about them and their health.
Have a Channel for Reviews & Ratings
The days are gone where medical office utilized suggestion boxes for patients to express their frustrations and sometimes come up with useful pointers for the practice. The current era is dominated by the internet and thus the best channel for getting reviews is online. But a practice cannot get online reviews unless it employs a solid online ratings and review strategy.
Doctors can list their practice online even though they don’t have websites. They can list their practice on Google Business, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram to generate a method for soliciting feedback from patients. Patients can easily and anonymously post their sentiments about a practice. Feedback is important whether it is positive or negative. Positive feedback regarding a practice shows what the doctors are doing something right and encourages them to keep at it or build upon it. But negative feedback helps the practice correct the mistakes they might be having.
Alternatively, forward-thinking medical offices can enlist the use of a rating and review portal like 360 Reputation Shield from Optimized360. Such a service guarantees the posting and publishing of nothing but 5-STAR positive reviews.
If a doctor is going to think like their patient with the objective of serving them better, then they have to be ready to receive what the patients are saying and learn to respond professionally and promptly to all comments.
Networking with Others
Networking is an important tool for soliciting new business. Neighboring businesses have the unique pleasure of getting to know one another. Then, when they do, they can refer customers over to your business. Although you can refer to any other business and any other business can refer to you, it is in your best interest to form relationships with other businesses that have some relevance to the dental industry. Orthodontists, plastic surgeons, general practitioners, and pediatricians are all strategic choices.
It can take a lifetime to gain a new patient but mere seconds to lose one. Thus as a doctor, one is required to cherish and treasure each patient. If you do not take good care of your referred patient, they are likely to complain to their primary doctors who would not refer more patients to your practice.
Accept All Insurance and Be Flexible
Insurance is critical in helping patients with the burden of paying for medical services. Sometimes, medical procedures or care may cost patients a great deal, and with proper insurance the procedures can become manageable. But the main challenge remains with the ability of practices not accepting all insurance carriers and plans. Patients develop frustration with practices that do not accept their insurance. Practices can increase patients satisfaction by accepting all types of insurance. Doing so can attract referrals from patients helping grow your practice.
The above scenarios are solely in the discretion of doctors and their practices. They are the ones in control of their services, the facilities they offer and how they are perceived. Therefore, it is up to them to take responsibility to think like their patients and know what they want.
Marketing and Advertising
Marketing and advertising are business activities that help in attracting and securing new business. It is a form of creating awareness for the business among customers who would wish to purchase the service or product the business offers. In the case of doctors and medical offices, increases in new patient flow can be generated through traditional and digital advertising and marketing.
Even small practices can implement corporate methods of marketing to advertise their practices with the most successful and cost-effective methods being having a solid website and strong online marketing (a mix of SEO, PPC and Social Media) to reach a targeted audience across your addressable network. Doctors can also be involved in article or blog writing, published in newspapers, magazines and on partner websites. This can create awareness of their practices to potential patients and in turn, increases the number of new patient inquiries.