We're Committed to You!
By: Patricia Kroken, FACMPE, CRA, FRBMA
Originally published Jan/Feb 2020 RBMA Bulletin
She was called back for a diagnostic mammogram after the radiologist read her screening study. She was concerned but trying not to be too worried. It was her first call-back, but all previous mammograms had been normal so she hoped everything would be all right. She waited at the reception desk to check in and looked around the lobby area at the artwork, since the front desk employees were engaged in conversation and she didn’t want to interrupt them. Her eyes fell on the sign behind the front desk staff: “Our Patients are Always First.”
After what seemed like minutes, it was evident the employees were carrying on a personal conversation and seemed oblivious to her presence. She cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me, I need to check in for my appointment.” One of them looked up and said abruptly, “Sign in here. I need a copy of your insurance card and driver’s license.”
How often do our actions, or those of our staff, contradict the aspirational vision statement or slogan? Do our patients, referring physicians or hospitals really feel their success is our priority?
Strategic Planning and Seeking Truth
Preparing a strategic business plan and/or marketing plan usually involves a review of strengths and weaknesses, including a comparison to the competition. We can spend hours on a vision and mission statement, meticulously wordsmithing until we distill a consensus regarding our practice’s reason for being. There usually isn’t time to identify and prioritize what that should look like in terms of everyday operations—but we have some great slogans.
Can we go through the tough assessment of whether reality matches our aspirations? What do our “customers” experience every day?
Consider the Radiology Patient
Consider the radiology patient. He would rather be almost anywhere else than in our imaging center today, but something is wrong and his doctor isn’t sure what. In addition to troublesome uncertainty, he is in pain, worried about missing work (again) and still fulfilling that $5,000 deductible so he somehow has to come up with a large payment today and hopes his credit card has enough room.
He checks his watch again, discovers 30 minutes have elapsed and he still hasn’t been called for his procedure. He arrived early, as instructed, but nobody on staff seems to have any sense of urgency and the giggling at the front desk has become annoying. Why won’t anyone tell him what’s going on or how much longer he’ll have to wait?
If we really believe our patients always come first, what steps could be taken to communicate that to the patients themselves (beyond the cheery sign in the waiting area)? This is an excellent topic for a staff meeting, both as a reminder of what our patients are dealing with as customers of the practice and to solicit suggestions of what the staff can do to make each patient feel valued.
It’s important to remind staff the 100th patient of the day has the same fears and concerns as the first so just as everyone is checking the clock and counting minutes until the end of the workday, a person in the waiting area could still use a friendly smile and reassurance.
It’s the Little Things!
Very often it’s the little things that make the difference; for example, ensuring the sign-in process is friendly by making eye contact and smiling when asking for patient information—even for those last patients of the day. Or if there is a delay, inform the patient of the cause and approximately how long he will have to wait. At what point should he be provided the option to reschedule?
Operations Discussion AgendaAlso for the operations discussion agenda:
- Do your staff interactions pass the grandmother test? If a staff member’s grandmother was scheduled for an exam today, would she be treated appropriately and with respect? If certain steps are grandma unfriendly, how could they be modified?
- Are common operational issues causing scheduling delays? If delays are a rarity, then explaining the cause to the patient may be enough. If they happen with frequency, what processes may need to change?
- Are there problems with referral processes, billing errors or prior authorizations? Many a good radiology practice, as measured by the experience and expertise of its physicians, garners disastrous on-line reviews due to the difficulty of correcting billing errors. And as more patients are encouraged to comparison shop healthcare providers, those reviews become more important.
- Does your patient portal work and/or have patients been complaining about it? Of the various portals to which I have access, only one has a logon that doesn’t seem to change every few months, so I seldom use them, especially when there is no response to pleas for assistance. The one functional portal also has excellent back-end processes, so if you send a message to that physician or scheduling department, there is a response within one day. Does that happen in your group?
- If you offer on-line scheduling or other web-based services, do they function smoothly? A well-respected local ophthalmology practice allows patients to order contact lenses online. After a set of lenses was not delivered within three weeks, I called to check on the delay. The response? “Oh, yeah,” the representative responded, “the website ordering doesn’t work. Just give me your order over the phone and I’ll take care of that.” A year later, assuming surely the problem had been corrected since it seemed to be a well-known issue, I tried ordering again. Nope. The site accepted my information, confirmed my prescription, allowed for entry of credit card information and apparently never finished the transaction. I called again and heard, “Yeah, that doesn’t work. Sorry about that.”
Radiology Practice Services
It’s a sad commentary when we’re surprised by good service. But we are. What is a baseline customer expectation? The organization we’re dealing with will do what they are scheduled to do when they are scheduled to do it. If something happens to interrupt the experience, they appear genuinely apologetic and help the customer set new expectations.
Sorry About That
Radiology marketing works hard to establish the practice’s brand and ensure referring physicians we will provide outstanding service to their patients but too often, we have a “Sorry about that” experience waiting. How do we remove “Sorry about that” as a response—both by preventing service problems and appropriately responding when they happen? For example, assuming a delay was not simply the result of poor planning, patients will accept a sincere apology.
Have you ever felt better hearing “Sorry about that” or does it sound like the response of a sulky teenager?
In terms of a radiology practice services, the staff also explains what they are about to do and what to expect. For example, a friend reported being delighted by a technologist who explained each step of her very first breast ultrasound, covered her with a warm blanket and warmed the gel too. Maybe that was standard practice for the tech, but it reduced anxiety for the patient.
The radiologist later came into the room to inform her everything was normal but explained the reason my friend was called back. The physician did not seem rushed or annoyed at having to talk with a patient—and she was far from being the first patient of the day. Furthermore, the exam was on time, the waiting area was clean and quiet, all magazines had been published within the past two years and magazine covers were intact.
It’s the little things that illustrate what our priorities are.
She worked as a consultant for radiology practices, billing companies, software developers, and hospital radiology departments for 20 years before joining MSN.
She is a regular contributor to the RBMA Bulletin and a frequent speaker on topics related to radiology practice management.
Pat can be reached at email@example.com