Behind the First Impression
In past articles, The Ambulatory M&A Advisor has discussed the importance of making a lasting first impression on a new patient to your urgent care center. Yes, the concept of customer service may seem second nature to some, but some owners say that there are much deeper roots to a good first impression than the standards that most settle for.
Hiring the optimal group of employees is essential to creating a lasting first impression. Ida Bergstrom, MD, medical director of Farragut Medical and Travel Care says that she looks for qualities beyond the obvious experience qualifications of working in a medical or front desk environment.
“We look for people who are outgoing, who are friendly. Because I can train for a lot of skills, but I can’t train somebody to have a smile when someone walks in the door,” Bergstrom says.
Bergstrom says the front desk is more important than the physicians at her clinics. She says the front desk is the first and last thing that people see when they come into the office.
“Most people, when they are walking into any situation, have a level of expectation. We not only want to meet that expectation, we want to exceed it. But, perception is people’s reality. Whether or not something we feel something has happened, if it’s a patient’s perception that they weren’t greeted properly or someone didn’t give eye contact, then they are going to have a negative experience,” Bergstrom says.
Robert Bratton, MD, chief medical officer, Lexington Clinic describes his ideal candidate for his offices’ front desk.
“I think they have to be a person that has a pleasant interaction with patients. I think first impressions are so important no matter what business you are in, and particularly in healthcare,” Bratton says. “People who present themselves to our office often feel poorly and it’s very important to have somebody there that is compassionate and understands that the patient is in need and can help them through the process of being registered for an office appointment.”
Bratton also says that the physicians themselves are also responsible for a lasting first impression on a new patient. When hiring physicians, Bratton says it is important to him that physician candidates identify with the core values of his centers and meet the business expectations.
“I send everybody a letter that is applying to Lexington Clinic that outlines what our core values are.; our mission, our vision and that we are a group practice and they have to buy into the concept of a team approach to patient care. I think it’s very important to our success that we are able to describe those to candidates. Our core values are excellence, integrity, service, compassion, respect, dedication and fiscal responsibility,” Bratton says.
Mark Rausch, CEO, medical director, BetterMed Urgent Care explains that while he focuses on delivering superior medical care that is both cost and time efficient, a huge part of the customer service he provides is the delivery of a pleasant experience to his “customers”. This begins with his hiring methods.
“For us, when hiring people, we look to see that they have that outgoing personality. That personality that always starts with a smile; a personality that’s glass is half full rather than half empty,” Rausch says.
He explains that he likes to witness a candidate’s personality when they don’t think eyes are on them.
“Really, what I like to do personally is be at the window, or somewhere near the front desk when the potential hire walks in. I want to see how they interact with our front desk person. I want to see how they walk, I want to see their posture, I want to see how they are when they think nobody is looking at them. For me, that’s a real telltale sign at that point in determining whether I hire that person or not.,” Rausch says.
Rausch says that not only is in person personality important, but phones presence is also something to be examined.
“You get it also in voicemails. If they come and they leave a voicemail on the practice manager’s voicemail, listen to the voicemail…do they sound upbeat and energetic? Do they have a monotone cadence to their voice? Is this somebody who you think is happy on the inside and is going to project what we want in our company?” Rausch says. “For us this is a great way for us to really vet out the potential people that we want because there are going to be days where I am not at the front desk, and I’m not sitting there watching my front desk staff.”
Rausch says his offices spend quite a bit of time preparing scripted routines for patients.
“We find it very important in our urgent care to make sure our processes and protocols are followed. We follow the philosophies of lean manufacturing and operational streamlining such as the Toyota way,” he says.
Using the lean method Rausch says his centers make sure from the first experience, that every experience that a patient has, has been standardized. This is done through extensive training to ensure that his centers are performing the job description to the efficient standards of his business.
Bratton goes on to say that the mere presentation of the center is critical to a lasting first impression. According to Bratton, ease of access and cleanliness are two of the biggest things that patients value in a center.
“I think some of the things that we have determined that patients value is that the facility has a clean appearance. Also, being able to navigate into the office is important, and that even involves parking. Is there an ease of parking? Is the office easy to access? Once you get there, is the office clean? Is it a pleasant place to stay for the waiting time? It needs to be a pleasant place for them to sit while they are waiting for their appointment,” Bratton says.
As far as entertaining patients during their brief stay in the waiting room, Bratton says the situation depends on the office. He says in the pediatric department his centers have fish tanks and child safe toys that are cleaned on a regular basis, but nevertheless help to pass the time to wait. Bratton says most of his centers also have internet access so that people can plug into a Wi-Fi system and have access to the internet while they wait.
“We also have policies in place that look at some of the reading material to make sure that it is not offensive to patients and also to make sure that it’s up to date. We’ve all been to a doctor’s office and seen a magazine from four years ago. We make an effort to try to keep the reading material up to date,” Bratton says with a chuckle.
Bergstrom says that when it comes to healthcare, people have choices, and they can go many different places.
“We want them to keep coming back to our office, so we try, anyway, to spend a lot of time on training. That’s the easy thing. I can’t always necessarily cure every illness that people have or make them instantly feel better, but I can try to guarantee that they will have a pleasant experience either on arrival or when they leave,” Bergstrom says.
Bergstrom says during quarterly evaluations her employees are evaluated based on how well they get along with their co-workers, the performance of job duties, how amenable are they to change, their innovation, etc.
“We try to keep track of our online presence, through various reviews. If something comes up, we all try to gather as a team and learn from either negative or positive commentary, and how we can continue that, “ Bergstrom says.
However, she admits that people’s perception of how they come off isn’t always what other people think it is. She says this is something that she tries to help her staff understand when it comes to patient interaction and a first impression.
Rausch easily sums up the importance of a patient first impression.
“The only reason we exist in this business is to serve patients. If there are no patients there, we don’t have a business, he says. “For us it is critical to make sure the patient experience is exceptional and the best. To do that, you have to know what the customer wants. I think what the customer wants is superior standard of care, cost effective, time efficient and delivered with a smile. If we can deliver those things, we are going to succeed.”
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