Managing online reviews is a critical part of any doctor’s marketing strategy. It’s important to note that the vast majority of negative reviews (19 out of 20) are caused by inadequate communication and disorganized operations. It essentially comes down to providing good customer service in an industry where there is a major shift happening as patients are being identified as “healthcare consumers”.

With that in mind, here are some techniques that you can implement in your practice that will have a major impact on the patient experience and your online reputation.

Provide Good Customer Service Before the Visit

Patients are going to have their first interaction with you in one of two ways: on your website or over the phone. By following some best practices and providing a good experience up front, you can begin to develop trust and set the tone from the start. Following these guidelines will let your patients know from the beginning that you are thinking of their needs and you care about their experience.

For patients that make an appointment via your website, accessibility is the name of the game:

  1. Make it easy to request an appointment, request prescription refills, and any of the other common administrative tasks. Some of these “self-service” website functions, if implemented correctly, can help ease some of your staff’s workload as well.
  2. Set up reminders for upcoming appointments. Reminders can effectively reduce your no-show rate. Just be sure that whether you send reminders via email or text that your processes are secure and HIPAA compliant.
  3. Allow patients to fill out their forms before the visit. Reduce waiting room anxiety and frustration by providing your patients with the option of filling out their paperwork at their convenience in the comfort of their home or office.

For patients that prefer to call to make an appointment:

  1. Implement a three-ring maximum rule. If your patient has a hard time connecting with staff the first time, it will set a negative expectation for the future.
  2. Request permission to place callers on hold. Doctor’s offices typically have a high call volume and it is tempting for staff juggling several calls to pick up the phone and say, “Dr. Johnson’s office, please hold… ”. By asking permission instead, staff can communicate that while they are busy, the caller is valuable and will not be forgotten.
  3. Have awareness of the caller’s feelings and communicate clearly. Are they confused? Explain. Are they afraid? Re-assure. Are they angry? Attempt service recovery. Most patients calm down quickly when they feel that they have been heard and considered. The goal is to hang up the phone with the confidence that the patient has clearly understood all instructions, has defined expectations, and any apprehension has been addressed.

Provide Good Customer Service During the Visit

If your patient has had a good experience before they walk through your door, that’s great, but the rubber meets the road once they arrive. Because most patient complaints have more to do with communication and operations than actual patient care, we’ll be focusing on areas that can have the biggest impact in that regard.

  1. Optimize the wait experience. Waiting rooms are notorious patient experience killers. Many healthcare organizations are even changing the name to something friendlier like “reception area”, but what does it take to make a real impact on the wait experience? It’s different for every practice, so take a few minutes and sit in your own waiting room. How does it feel? Are you comfortable? Can you see the TV? Are there up-to-date reading material available? Is it clean? Does your front desk area have enough space for privacy? Are there any amenities (coffee, etc.) that make it a little more comfortable?
  2. Be honest about wait times. Waiting is sometimes inevitable in healthcare, but the more that patients are kept informed and updated about their wait, the more likely they will be to stay calm. Waiting room rounding is an excellent solution: designate one staff member to periodically visit the waiting room and inform patients of the expected wait time and offer apologies if necessary.
  3. Implement a standardized process for staff-patient communication. Medical practice staff that interacts with a large volume of patients can easily get caught in a habit of “going through the motions” and customer service can slip. Standardized processes can prevent this from happening and also decrease patient anxiety, increase patient compliance, and improve clinical outcomes. If you need a place to start, take a look at AIDET developed by the Studer Group.

Provide Good Customer Service After the Visit

Follow up is often overlooked in medical practice customer service. It would be a shame to make it this far in the patient journey only to fumble at the goal line. Here are a few tips to finish strong:

  1. Allow access to medical records through an online portal. Just like the pre-appointment “self-service” activities, direct access to patient records will make life easier for your patients and your staff.
  2. Set standard follow up calls for patient visits and be sure that test results are communicated promptly. Having a process in place for follow up will reduce anxiety for patients awaiting test results, improve compliance, and can also protect you from potential legal risk. Close the loop and document the call.
  3. Create a newsletter to keep patients informed of relevant information, helpful content, and answers to frequently asked questions. Many doctors are frustrated when patients develop their own medical opinions by turning to “Dr. Google” and put their faith in less-than-reliable sources. A great way to combat this is to create your own content that will educate your patients and establish you as a resource for information. Publish this content on social media and send it to their inbox.
  4. Consider surveying your patients and use results to improve your practice and ask your best patients to submit positive reviews on your behalf. Always strive to continue to improve your customer service and your reputation. It’s hard to know where your weaknesses are without data, and surveys are one way to collect that data.

If you have successfully provided great service to your patients before, during, and after their visit, you will foster improved patient loyalty and retention and can expect a strong reputation online.