positive patient experience

Simple roadmap to a positive patient experience

Have you ever wondered why certain clinics attract more referrals and leads? The efforts put into a positive patient experience are often not the primary focus of a surgeon and yet…they pay off. In a private health setup, competition and patient choice are key drivers and this is how you can make a difference.

positive patient experience

How to create a positive patient experience?

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

November 2, 2022

What is your take on wait times?

wait times

When you live your professional life in the bubble that starts at Medical School…there is always a risk that you may not be fully aware of people’s feelings, as they ‘go to the doctor’.

In this day and age, ‘going’ starts the very moment we take out our phone and start searching for a clinic, an individual specialist or a group practice.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Some people have had negative experiences and they now dread going to the doctor. Wait times, paperwork, cost, uncertainty and the general complexities of the healthcare system all add up and this is where you can make a huge difference."

In a changed private healthcare landscape, it’s no longer just about being an excellent doctor. Better patient experiences are created when a practice manages to reduce wait times, offer great customer service and make bookings easier.

Bear in mind that the general feeling of ‘having to wait’ applies to different areas of your practice management:

  • Your wait list: Once a patient needs treatment, having to wait weeks or months adds to the general feeling of stress.
  • Your appointments: If patients always spend more time in the waiting room than they anticipated, there is an additional layer of anxiety, stress and inconvenience to deal with.
  • Responsiveness: If patients have to wait hours or days to receive a response to a phone or email enquiry, again, it creates a feeling of being disempowered and helpless.

If you are just starting out in private practice, or you are planning a reset, why not start here, with a number of positive patient experience tips to create the best possible patient experience.

#1 Inform, educate and grow your authority

digital patient experience

Paying attention to the digital patient experience is a relatively new aspect of running a medical practice. We know that people use online search in many different situations. When they experience a symptom, when the GP mentions a condition, or when they have established that they need a specialist or a surgeon. You will want to make sure that your practice is easy to find in the first place.

And beyond that, you will want to make sure that patients come across your content as they start doing their research.

If your content does not show up when patients are first reading up on a condition, it is very likely that they are already developing a digital relationship with your competitors. The digital patient experience can be summarised as follows:

  • The patient googles for symptoms and conditions: In this phase, anyone who provides educational content in your catchment area might already be on the patient’s radar as an expert.
  • The patient does more online research after having learned about surgery types, treatment pathways or solutions. Often after a consultation with the general practitioner. The positive patient experience is enhanced when a patient can find palatable, well-presented information on a medical website of a specialist in their area.

So what makes a digital patient experience a positive one? Your capacity to inform, educate and build authority as a specialist doctor is one element. The quality of your web pages is equally pivotal.

Your website should be technically healthy and in line with the current standards. Simple, fast-loading, easy to navigate and responsive so it shows up correctly on phones and tablets. If one of those boxes is not ticked, Google will detect that and might not even rank you for specific searches, even if you think you have written a brilliant web page.

It goes without saying that you want your content to be AHPRA-compliant, relevant and accurate, and in line with web accessibility standards. Here at Digital Practice, we treat content as if it were part of a digital magazine, organising the information in a visually compelling way so the positive patient experience starts from the very second a patient lands on your website.

We notice that the About Page is the second most important page on any medical website, after the homepage. It means you will want to make sure you have a well-designed and well-written About page, so they get a clear indication of what to expect from your private practice and your team.

To make it a first impression that counts, don’t forget to optimise your Contact Page, the essential page that allows patients to get in touch with your team.

In the video below, I demonstrate some of the positive patient experiences that start on the specialist’s website.

#2 Make it comfortable. Make it easy.

patient experience tips

Let’s look at some of the patient experience tips.

People expect some formality when they go and see their surgeon or specialist. But they also expect higher levels of informality, particularly in a laid-back country like Australia. Consumers expect customer service and that includes feeling comfortable.

Here’s what often happens when consumers become patients and find themselves waiting in a typical waiting room.

  • The room itself is small and has typical waiting room chairs, used old magazines and a nervous buzz coming from the adjacent reception desk.
  • The wait is often longer than expected, or undefined because the doctor is still with a patient and/or running late returning from theatre.
  • The day-to-day conversations, phone calls and administrative moves of the reception team add to the disconnected feeling of being a number.

Recent research shows that 84% of patients will feel satisfied or dissatisfied with the service depending on the overall wait time. 20% of patients eventually find another doctor if the delays are creating stress and almost 1 in 3 patients admit they just leave the waiting room if they are kept waiting for too long.

If you have figured out how to minimise the wait times, make sure you mention it in your website content, on your About page and on your Contact page.

Let’s look at another type of patient experience tips – the ones that will help your patients avoid the waiting room altogether!

A positive patient experience is also enhanced when you make it easier for patients to book their appointment.

Online bookings require tools that align with the need for a GP referral.
Virtual appointments or telehealth consultations are an additional tool you can use to offer a more positive patient experience when possible.

Telehealth reduces patient travel costs, paperwork, lowers the wait times and allows you to perform more consultations. It is known to enhance patient satisfaction and the tools are getting better and better. Even if you use standard tools such as Zoom or Skype, you can communicate with the patient in new and very convenient ways. All-in-one virtual care platforms such as Coviu allow you to make the process secure, confidential and synchronised with your administration.

#3 Focus on the emotional connection

emotional connection with patients

Doctors, specialists, surgeons and allied health professionals all have their personal take on the value of emotional connection with patients. They used to be called bedside manners.

In the digital age, emotional connection with patients is a far more sophisticated area, compared to what it was 50 years ago!

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"I totally understand that - as a surgeon - your primary focus will always be surgical excellence. That is the core of your service. Yet, the surrounding layer of customer service is built around your communication skills, your clarity, your support and empathy. That is the emotional connection leading doctors are able to generate with their patients."

If you have decided to focus more on the emotional connection with your patients, rest assured that you don’t have to get all emotional and teary in your consultations.

Let’s take a closer look at the emotive components we often see as game-changers in a doctor’s reputation:

  • Presence: A doctor who is fully present, maintaining eye contact and offering their full attention to the patient in front of them, are generally perceived as supportive and empathic.
  • Respect: As surprising as it may sound, feeling respected by your doctor when you share your story is key. The opposite is often felt when a surgeon or doctor is displaying body language that shows irritation, contempt or impatience, when a patient asks questions or brings up topics that the doctor does not like to discuss, such as holistic or alternative healthcare services and pathways.
  • Clarity: Doctors who sense when a patient needs more clarity, will make a bigger effort to explain things again, draw a picture or use a metaphor. Clarity leads to peace-of-mind and ties in with a general feeling of comfort and support, when a complicated condition or procedure is being discussed.

If you take a look at the content of Google Reviews for doctors, you will notice that the majority of all reviews are about friendliness (or rudeness), clarity (or lack of communication tools or skills) and respect (or arrogance, as the absence of respect is often labelled).

#4 Be a generator of friendliness and patient comfort

friendly receptionists

Friendly receptionists in a doctor’s practice are invaluable. At the same time, we often take the whole concept of friendliness for granted or we don’t put in place mechanisms to consistently offer genuine friendly service levels in our medical practice.

Why? Because other things get in the way. Resources, paperwork, unexpected delays and cancellations, the pandemic, etc.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"This is where a private practice needs a regular review that falls under Business Development. If your practice is generating friendly interactions with patients, you are already preparing the next wave of positive word-of-mouth referrals. You are using this energy to grow your practice, and it benefits the current patient sitting in front of you."

Leadership and customer service training sessions are great investments in the long-term success of your private practice. Beyond surgical excellence and clinical outcomes, the quality of your word-of-mouth referrals will increase exponentially once you start investing in the soft skills of your team. And yes, that may include your shareholders/surgeons if you are a group practice!

It’s not just about choosing soft chairs for the waiting room. It’s often about softening the feel of your people, as they welcome patients with high levels of vulnerability.

Here’s the elephant in the room. Receptionists tend to be warmer and more welcoming when they are satisfied with the job. I have met doctors who just want to buy away their competitor’s receptionist with a higher salary. Recognition, development programs and a simple ‘thank you’ are often the best tools to hire and keep the best team members.

And that brings us full circle. The positive patient experience links to the positive employee experience. And it links back to who you are as a doctor running the business.

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We can help!

positive online experience

Here’s a fun fact. When we work together with surgeons, specialists, GPs, allied health professionals and practice managers, we start with building and designing an exceptional and positive online experience for the practice. And quite often, the exploration and reconnaissance journey we go on, also brings insights in other areas. You could call these areas the fluffy stuff but I prefer to call it personal growth and development. Wouldn’t you agree that when we know who we are, we are in a better position to define how we bring value to each new situation? If you are ready for the journey, book a free 1:1 Strategy Session and let’s look at creating a positive patient experience for your future patients.

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