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10 steps to enhance patient satisfaction in your practice In the current health care market,
10 steps to enhance patient satisfaction in your practice In the current health care market,

10 steps to enhance patient satisfaction in your practice

In the current health care market, patients are seeking enhanced access to care and top-quality customer service. One example of this demand is the substantial expansion of retail clinics. Offering patients walk-in service, these clinics have achieved some success through catering to patients’ desire to have easy, immediate access to care. Offering patients what they want will help keep your practice competitive. The following are questions that can help you assess and improve your practice’s patient offerings.

Practice assessment: Evaluate your practice from your patients’ perspective.

1. Do you offer convenient hours—before and after regular business hours?

To accommodate patients that work during the standard business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you may wish to offer early morning, evening and/or weekend appointments. Patients who cannot easily take time off from work will appreciate the access and convenience of these alternate appointment hours.

2. Do you offer same-day appointments (open-access scheduling)?

Open-access scheduling, often referred to as advanced access, is a patient-friendly system that allows patients to schedule appointments without waiting for several days or weeks to see their physician. Open- access scheduling is an effective way to decrease your backlog of appointments. You see your patients for an appointment the same day they call, regardless of whether the nature of the visit is urgent or routine. For example, you might book 35 percent of your schedule and leave 65 percent of the schedule open for appointments that will be scheduled the same day. When patients are able to see their physician the same day and therefore resolve their health issue sooner rather than later, there is both a greater sense of control for the physician and improved satisfaction for the physician and patient alike.

Learn more about open-access scheduling by visiting the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Web site at www.aafp.org under “Practice management” and “Practice transformation articles” to access helpful resources.

3. What is your procedure for urgent patient concerns after hours—is there a physician on call who is readily available?

If you do not have a physician on call to speak with patients during hours that your practice is closed, you may wish to partner with other physicians in the community to offer patients extended coverage. Patients will appreciate knowing there is a physician available to help them no matter the time of day or night.

This educational resource was developed through a cooperative effort between the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Copyright 2008 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.

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When patients call your practice, can they speak directly with a nurse or physician? Will the nurse or physician return their call promptly? How soon do you return calls and address patient issues?

Listen to your patients. Are they asking to speak to a nurse right away or within a certain time frame? Does your practice have the resources to offer this service? Are patients upset if they are unable to speak with the nurse or physician? If this is a problem area for your practice, you may wish to consider how you can better meet this patient expectation (e.g., set aside a certain time during the day for the nurse and/or physician to return calls in a prompt manner).

5. Do you offer to call or send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy so that patients can pick them up without having to wait?

You can save your patients time by calling, faxing or sending prescriptions electronically to the pharmacy. A patient who does not feel well truly appreciates being able to pick up his or her prescription from the pharmacy without first dropping off the paper prescription and then waiting for at least 20 minutes while the pharmacy fills the prescription.

6. Do you accept credit cards, debit cards and automated clearinghouse (ACH) debits to facilitate patients’ payments due?

When you offer patients a selection of payment methods, patients may be more likely to pay their balance and will appreciate the convenience.

7. Do you offer online medical consultations (e-visits)?

Online medical consultations, also known as e-visits, are Web-based visits between the physician and an established patient through secure electronic mail. Established patients are able to present non-urgent clinical questions about medication, treatment and diagnostic alternatives or request non-urgent medical consultations from their physicians. These convenient medical consultations save patients time and allow patients to have a “visit” with their physician from anywhere at any time. Health insurers are increasingly reimbursing physicians for e-visits with patients. Patients who do not have e-visit benefit coverage through their health insurer can still use this service on a cash basis and are able to submit the receipt to their medical flexible spending accounts (FSA) or health savings accounts (HSA) for possible reimbursement.

Practice Management Center resource tip:

You can learn more about this new patient convenience and whether it’s right for your practice by reading the American Medical Association (AMA) Practice Management Center * educational resource “Online medical consultations: Connecting physicians with patients.” Visit the AMA Practice Management Center Web site at www.ama-assn.org/go/pmc to view this resource.

* The AMA Practice Management Center is a resource of the AMA Private Sector Advocacy unit.

8. Do you offer education to help your patients understand their bills?

The AMA encourages you and your practice staff to involve and educate your patients about medical treatment decisions as well as health insurer and payer payment policies and procedures. Industry trends indicate that both payers and employers are shifting more of the responsibility and cost of health care treatment and payment to the patient. In response to this shift, it would benefit your practice to proactively consider either establishing or revising your payment and collection policies and enhancing patient education about these policies.

Practice Management Center resource tip:

Visit the AMA Practice Management Center Web site at www.ama-assn.org/go/pmc to access patient educational resources, such as “Helping your patients understand their billing and payment responsibilities” and “Understanding your health insurance policy and payment practices.”

9. Does your practice have a Web site? Does your Web site offer online appointment scheduling and convenient access to patient registration and other patient forms?

Web-based appointment scheduling allows patients to book their own appointments via the Internet 24 hours a day seven days a week. This will facilitate the appointment scheduling process by freeing up practice staff time spent on answering calls to schedule appointments and will save your patients time as well.

Your Web site can also offer convenience to patients by offering new patient registration forms to complete and submit online prior to their appointments. This capability will eliminate the need for patients to arrive 15 minutes before their first appointment to complete such paperwork. Your practice will also be relieved of the administrative burden of obtaining and entering this data at the time of the visit.

You can also keep your patients well informed of various practice policies, such as patient financial responsibility; appointment cancellation; privacy, services and procedures performed, by posting these policies on your Web site.

10. Do you survey your patients to assess how well your practice is meeting their needs?

You can use patient surveys to obtain your patients’ genuine opinions about your practice, including the appearance, comfort, patient flow, wait time and patient interaction with the physician and practice staff. Patient surveys uncover patients’ appraisals of their unmet needs. You can identify any bottlenecks in patient flow by asking your patients about their wait times, which begin when they enter the office and end when they leave (including the time they are in the waiting area and the exam room). Patients will appreciate having the opportunity to confidentially express both their concerns and satisfaction and offer their ideas for improvement. Be sure to address the survey results by implementing improvements to your practice.

Questions or concerns about practice management issues?

AMA members and their practice staff can e-mail the AMA Practice Management Center at practicemanagementcenter@ama-assn.org for assistance.

For additional information and resources, there are three easy ways to contact the AMA Practice Management Center:

Call (800) 621-8335 and ask for the AMA Practice Management Center

Fax information to (312) 464-5541

Visit www.ama-assn.org/go/pmc to access the AMA Practice Management Center Web site

ACCMA members and their practice staff can e-mail the ACCMA accma@accma.org for assistance.

For additional information and resources, there are three easy ways to contact ACCMA:

Call (510) 654-5383

Fax information to (510) 654-8959

Visit www.accma.org to access the ACCMA Web site