Keeping Customers Happy

Edition: November 2002 - Vol 10 Number 11
Article#: 1357
Author: Repertoire

Today’s patients are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more. Doctors whose waiting rooms are shabby and dark; whose receptionists sit behind smeared, sliding glass windows; whose end tables are cluttered with yellowed, stained Highlights magazines from a decade ago; and whose circa 1970 naugehyde furniture is cracked or leaking its innards, are operating on borrowed time.

“The old days when you could just rent office space and throw chairs in an open area are disappearing,” says William Jessee, M.D., CEO of the Medical Group Management Association, Englewood, CO.

Birmingham, AL-based health care consultant John O’Malley, author of Ultimate Patient Satisfaction (McGraw-Hill, 1997) and frequent Repertoire contributor, suggests that when distributor reps work with docs and office managers on office set-ups, they continually bring the conversation back to two simple words -- patient satisfaction.

According to O’Malley, reps and docs should consider outfitting their offices with some of the following:

· Passive education (on health, prevention, symptoms).

· Patient/family telephone (in the waiting area, with small desk and chair).

· Cluster seating (so people can sit in groups).

· Warm, relaxing colors.

· Picture books.

· Joke books (such as Readers Digest).

· An open, spacious reception area.

· Removal of the sliding-window barriers.

· A more spacious and less cluttered sign-in area.

· Larger chairs (people are getting bigger).

· No plastic furniture or plants.

· A fish tank, which many people find relaxing.

· Background music (light classical).

· Scenic, relaxing wall decorations.

· Ample walking space around the check-in area.

· Removal of signage on walls, glass etc.

· The use of sunlight spectrum light bulbs and incandescent tubes.

· Easily disinfected waiting area furnishings and materials (especially things that patients touch, handle or come in contact with).

· An area or stand for refreshments.

· Ample space to hang outer clothing (rain gear, overcoats etc.).

· Ample light in areas where patient are required to read (150 watts minimum).

· Lightweight main entrance doors. (Seniors find many doors difficult to open.)

Listening to the Patient

Doctors and practice managers are beginning to take into account the likes and dislikes of their patients when designing new offices or rehabbing old ones, adds MGMA’s Jessee. One Atlanta-based practice, for example, went so far as to eliminate its waiting room altogether, he says. All exam rooms have exterior doors. Patients park in a spot near their assigned door, wait for a light to go on to tell them the exam room is empty, then go in. “No more cattle car waiting room,” he says.

With its call for greater patient privacy, HIPAA is bringing about waiting-room changes as well, says Jessee. For the first time, doctors are seriously asking themselves how secure is the storage of medical records in their offices, he says. In many cases, the records sit in open shelving right behind the receptionist. When the janitors come in at night, they have unfettered access to those records. Some doctors are considering installing locking cabinets or even designing separate rooms for records storage. Others are opting to install electronic medical record systems (see related article), which eliminate the hard-copy records altogether and can lead to greater efficiencies, says Jessee.