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Dr. Jodi Little is a native of Colorado. She has over 20 years of audiology experience serving both pediatric and adult patients in clinical and educational settings.
How to Create a Better Patient Experience At Your Audiology Practice
Improving the overall experience for the audiology patient is key to maintaining and building future growth in any audiology practice. With so many choices for patients when choosing a hearing healthcare provider, it comes down to the overall experience and your patient’s perception of the visit from start to finish. Making the experience a positive one from the very first interaction, will keep the patient not only coming back year after year but also referring their family and friends to see you as well. Patient satisfaction comes down to delivery of care and delivery of care takes a team. The entire staff must be involved in ensuring your patient’s overall experience is a positive one.
We’ve all heard the saying that a team is only as good as it’s worst player. The same is true in the audiology practice. Each staff member has a vital role on the team and must do his or her part to ensure that each patient has a positive experience. This starts the moment the patient first makes contact with the office. Often this occurs with a simple phone call. How is the caller greeted? Does the caller feel valued and listened to, or is the interaction scripted and cold? Proper training for front office staff will ensure that the patient is greeted and treated with exceptional care from the first phone call or walk-in interaction with the front office staff. Basic information will need to be gathered, but the overall experience has to exude an attitude of caring and concern with a level of efficiency that demonstrates competency from all staff members. The front office staff’s knowledge and caring attitude can set the tone for the appointment.
It’s important to remember that by the time the prospective patient makes that first phone call, they have most likely spent countless hours in denial about his or her need for the appointment in the first place. Actually picking up the phone and making that initial phone call took courage. Treat them with respect and an appreciation of the bravery it took to make the initial contact. The last thing they want to hear is that you are so booked up that you can’t fit them into your schedule for weeks or months. If you are not using block scheduling, you may want to take a careful look at how block scheduling can ensure that new patient’s have the opportunity to have a consultation quickly after making that first level of contact.
Once the appointment is scheduled making the paperwork easy will go a long way in overall patient satisfaction with the new clinic. If taking the appointment on the phone, ask the new patient if they would prefer to fill out the new patient forms in the office at the time of the appointment or in advance. Offer the forms online or via email as well as good old fashioned snail mail. Many of our older clientele would prefer to receive the paperwork in the mail. Be sure to include directions on how to get to the office as well as information about what to expect during the appointment. This can be a valuable counseling tool that allows patient’s time to think about questions they may have in advance of the appointment.
It is also important to gather patient insurance information as soon as possible. The billing department will want to make sure that any necessary referral information is obtained prior to the appointment and to make sure that services are covered and that the providers are in-network for the insured. It is helpful to verify any benefits for treatment as well so as to create a smooth transition during the appointment when moving from evaluation to discussing treatment options. Creating a positive experience for patients never includes surprises when it comes to insurance coverage or out of pocket expenses. It’s always a good idea to confirm appointments the day prior - this can be a good time to review the insured’s policy coverage and benefits so that they are aware of any co-pays or out of pocket fees that will be collected during their visit.
When the patient finally arrives for that first appointment, be sure to greet them quickly and personably. You have already learned a bit about them from when the appointment was scheduled. Use this information to create a personal connection and to make them feel welcome. Treat them like the valued guest that they are. They are part of the clinic family now. Offer them water, coffee or tea and a comfortable chair to sit in while waiting for the appointment to start. Be sure that the office is clean and inviting. Offer a variety of reading materials (this can be an opportunity to get them thinking about treatment options as there are a variety of books and pamphlets on hearing loss and treatment options available) but don’t keep them waiting for long. Respecting the patient’s time will be critical in ensuring that they leave the office feeling valued and respected.
All staff should remember to make a positive first impression when greeting the new patient. Smile. I can’t say enough about how much of an impression a smile can make. It communicates volumes. It says you care. A smile can even change the tonal quality of your voice and soften the mundane. Dress professionally and be well groomed. Look the patient in the eye – you are trustworthy. Offer a firm handshake, which demonstrates the confidence you have in your clinics ability to handle even the most difficult communication challenge. Your office can and will make a positive difference in the patient’s life if you are given the opportunity. Set yourself up for success as you ensure the patient’s experience is exceptional.
Be sure to introduce the new patient to other staff members that will play a vital role in the recommended treatment approach. If your clinic utilizes an audiology assistant or lab technician, be sure to involve them in the initial appointment. This will help ease the transition later on and let the patient know that there is always someone available to help them should they need walk-in support. It also shows the patient that you are welcoming them into your clinic family. Friendly professional dialogue among all staff members ensures a positive experience for everyone.
For the audiologist or audiology assistant working through the case history, be sure to take interest and really listen to what the patient is telling you. Be an active listener – repeating back portions of what you hear for clarification. Ask the right questions as you move along so that you can probe further into what makes the patient tick. What motivated him or her to take this first step in coming in? What communication challenges are most difficult in daily life? This can give you incredible insight when it comes to developing rapport and making sure that you are addressing the patient’s unique and individual needs. Trust me when I say that if your patient leaves the appointment realizing that not only did you listen to their communication frustrations, but you also had solutions for them, they will leave singing your praise! After all, they came in looking for help - Give it to them!
Take the time to explain the test procedures and results in a clear and concise manner. This will ensure that the patient is empowered to take the first step in moving forward with treatment. The patient will be satisfied and confident that they got the answers they were looking for when they scheduled the appointment in the first place. Remember to speak in layman’s terms as you explain results and relay the information back to your patient in a meaningful way. Use the information gathered in the case history to relate the test results back to the patient’s communication challenges. Allow your patient and his/her family the opportunity to ask questions. The more you can involve family members in this process, the better. Your patient will need the support of family members in the rehabilitation process. Moving from reviewing test results to an effective treatment strategy should be an easy and seamless transition. My best advice here - DEMO! You can talk all day about the features of the latest and greatest hearing devices on the market, but if you put it in their ears and let them hear it for themselves, suddenly your words are a powerful truth.
Following these simple strategies will ensure that each and every patient that enters your audiology practice has an exceptional experience from start to finish. Creating this atmosphere of care and concern coupled with outstanding hearing healthcare will keep patients trusting you for all of their hearing and communication needs for years to come. Enjoy, they are family now.
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More about the author: Dr. Little enjoys all phases of the diagnostic and rehabilitative process and thrives on helping her patients find unique solutions to communication challenges. Dr. Little is passionate about hearing conservation and is a sought after speaker on the topic of hearing loss in the dental field. Dr. Little completed a Master of Science from Portland State University in 1994 and a clinical doctorate in Audiology from the Arizona School of Health Sciences in 2002. Outside of work, Dr. Little enjoys playing tennis and spending time with her husband, children and extended family.