Looking at your practice through patient eyes

March 10, 2015

Though patient feedback is an excellent feedback resource, it has limitations. There are two additional ways to view your practice more objectively.

Ever leave a business scratching your head and wondering how they stay open? Perhaps you’ve had bad service at a restaurant; cold food, long wait, or rude staff. You leave thinking “if only the owner knew”. But they don’t. You know that feedback to the employees is unlikely to reach any decision-makers. Because you can’t change it, you say nothing and vow to never return – no matter how good the food was.

The same can happen in a medical practice, and it happens all the time. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, “I love the physician, I can’t stand the office.”  It’s only a matter of time before they try another practice, and the physician owners, even managers, often have no idea.  You might be wondering “Why? Why don’t patients just tell their doctors how they feel or what happened?” The truth is that most people are uncomfortable complaining to their healthcare provider. They don’t want to be difficult; they don't want to change how you view them or be ostracized by staff in the future when they really need their help. The bottom line: it feels risky.

To be able to see your practice through the eyes of patients, you have three choices:

  • Gather valid patient feedback

  • Bring in an expert

  • Learn to self-assess regularly

Though patient feedback is an excellent resource, it’s limited in one very important regard: your patients may not know how something should be or why something doesn’t feel right. Patient feedback-when requested, gathered, and compiled correctly-can be an incredible resource, but let’s focus on the latter two options: bringing in an expert and regular self-assessment.

Let’s face it, we don’t see our own dirt. We get used to the squeaky door, the drippy faucet and the dog’s bark at home – so why would you expect to be able to see your practice with objective eyes? The best way to get a thorough and concise evaluation of your patient experience is to hire an expert to pose as a customer. I call this service the Mystery Patient Service.  It includes a report and sit-down meeting to review the results and recommendations.

The information you gain from this service can be surprising and pleasant, like validating your hard work in finding just the right front desk receptionist. It can also shed light on areas you may have never considered, or areas you thought were just fine but in fact, need some attention. I’ve discovered things as simple, yet as important, as a phone tree message that was inefficient and added to caller’s frustration. Most of the time recommendations are inexpensive and relatively simple to implement, but would have not been discovered without setting expert attention to finding where the weak links lie.

Learning to regularly self-assess is a must if you want to stay on top of your practice game because you’re unlikely to hire the expert Mystery Patient Service every six months. So, here’s how to get your best version of seeing your practice through a patient’s eyes. Drive to and enter your suite the same exact way that your patients do. Try parking where they have to park at the worst time of the day. Imagine that you don’t know how to get there and enter through the doors and areas they use, even sit awhile in the reception area. Is it clean, comfortable, and pleasant? Are there appropriate distractions and creature comforts like reading material that’s geared toward your patient’s interests (not the person who orders the magazines)? Is there something to drink? Where’s the patients’ restroom and what’s it like in there?

Try to experience the practice as a patient would, while attempting to consider their needs and desires. For example, a practice made up of elderly patients needs to be accessible.  That means no matter how beautiful the Persian rug in the waiting room is, if walkers get stuck on it then it’s got to go.

Take 15 minutes every quarter and sit where you can hear how patients are welcomed, processed, and brought back. Is it done in a way that matches your desired practice image? It’s critical to schedule these self-assessments and actually measure and report on them so that you can target accountability, goals, and timelines for improvements.

I highly recommend that your practice utilize all available tools to gain a fuller understanding of how your practice measures up from the patient’s perspective, but don’t forget to simply pay attention when patients do share with you how their experience could have been improved, or how you’ve impressed them.

Making extra effort to understand how your practice can improve will pay off when you implement changes that differentiate you from your competition and get your patients talking about their experience. Remember, the most powerful marketing is a patient’s word-of-mouth recommendation. Your patients are unique.  Looking at your practice through their eyes can empower you to build a practice that fits them uniquely and that they won’t find elsewhere.