patient engagement

How to Improve Patient Satisfaction at Your Practice

It’s hard to consider children and families in your care as “customers” for many reasons. They are patients and parents whose relationship with their pediatrician is as important as the quality of the healthcare they receive. When considering the pediatric practice as a business, thinking of families as customers in a more traditional sense can help practice owners discover new ways to overcome obstacles and go beyond the ordinary call of service in ways that make for lasting patient connections. Read more to learn how to address patient feedback, identify common pain points, and show up for patients in ways that support families beyond their expectations.

Fostering Business Success with Patient Satisfaction

The relationship between families and pediatricians is more profound and less transactional than, say, a customer and their hairstylist or diving instructor. While both of these professionals provide a service, healthcare is more private, personal, and for parents of children, emotionally resonant than other services, and requires empathy and compassion to be the groundwork for quality care.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recognized the shifting nature of patient-physician relationships, and acknowledges that current and future generations of pediatricians will need to empower engagement in patients’ own healthcare, offer community-level support, and provide population health management in order to best support their patients.

What does customer service look like in such a healthcare model? Ideally, it is based on solid patient and family/physician relationships fostered by clear and consistent communication, compassionate listening, empowerment of family strengths, and shared decision-making in the best interests of the child and family. 

For families, a successful relationship with their pediatrician may feel like having their concerns heard with respect and patience, receiving thoughtful answers to concerns and questions, and being offered clear guidance. Successful customer experience will also manifest as low-stress experiences in logistical matters, from scheduling to accessing patient data to making a payment.

Responding to Feedback

The first way to understand the patient experience at your pediatric practice is to understand the feedback from patients and families themselves. Informally, this could be observation of comments heard in the exam room or the front desk; you could also elect for a more formal project. Sometimes, feedback becomes hard to ignore, and the way you respond to negative feedback is important, too.

QI Projects at Your Pediatric Practice

For a more systematic approach to patient feedback analysis, practices might consider a quality improvement (QI) project that solicits and studies feedback from families in order to understand the practice’s strengths and opportunities. A QI project should begin with a clear goal, per the AAP’s guidance. For patient experience or customer service goals, aim for actionable results such as “solicit parent feedback” or “record patient feedback interactions” over a set period, such as 3, 6, or 12 months.

Following the Plan, Do, Study, Act methodology endorsed by the AAP as part of their EQIPP program, which grants CME for courses surrounding QI, practices can directly tie patients’ feedback to workflows that can then be altered to better serve patients. This process is iterative so as to be methodical. For example, if during a QI project cycle your practice discovers that patients are frustrated at the wait times in the reception area, one possible solution could be to allow early arrivals to be seen by the doctor before late arrivals. In the second cycle of the QI cycle, patients can then reflect whether this solution works for them -- or if it does not, a third QI cycle begins.

Responding to Negative Feedback

Sometimes a visit to the pediatrician is a bad experience for a family simply because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control. However, it’s important to distinguish between the responses that reflect changes your practices can actually make, and those that may indicate a disconnect between the family’s values and the pediatrician’s.

In a previous post, we shared the advice of Shireen Hart, Esq, who offered her perspective on when and if pediatricians should respond to online negativity, especially on social media. While some cases require the advice of an expert like Ms. Hart, in many cases, either silence or a measured, thoughtful response is the best course of action. The AAP also has great advice on when and how to respond, as well as when cutting ties is the best course of action.

Credibility, reputation, and privacy are crucial considerations when responding to feedback. Due to HIPAA regulations, pediatricians must not divulge whether they are a patient’s physician or not, but practices can respond in a generalized manner if they so choose. This presents the effort that you’re making towards being an office that cares about customer service and the feedback of families. An example response might be:

“Thank you for your feedback. It is important to us at ABC Pediatrics that all of our families are valued and respected. We are happy to speak with you about your concerns -- you can reach out to our email address and our office manager will respond directly.”

Negative feedback can feel discouraging, but taken respectfully and patiently, it can be helpful for your practice overall. Not only can you have aspects of your practice put into a different light that enables change, you can also understand that the values of your practices and some families will not always align, and they may be better served at another office. In the end, your patients are better served when their relationship with the practice is one of trust and respect.

Going the Extra Mile for Patient Experience

Pediatric practices are busy places, and the physicians and staff who run them are usually very busy too. Customer service is all about going the “extra mile” and “going above and beyond,” but this does not mean that you will need to resort to gimmicks like giant lollipops or free physicals on Fridays.

Instead, consider what your practice already does to go the extra mile for your patients. Do you stay open late or early for working parents? Have you held an event like a drive-thru clinic? Perhaps you’ve offered home visits for a particularly sick child, or arrived at the hospital simply to reassure frantic parents that their child is in safe hands. Even small gestures like wearing a rainbow Pride sticker on your lanyard, saying thank you, or staying with a depressed teen an extra 15 minutes can mean the world to kids and their families.

Once you’ve outlined the ways that you currently show up for patients, you’ll have a better understanding of your customer service values, and you may wish to formalize them into policies that serve your patients even better. These are most effective when the changes are centered around pain points.

Pain Points

Pain points are instances of patient interaction where the parent or patient feels emotional pain because of an obstacle they face in the process of receiving healthcare. This can result in resentment, frustration, mistrust, and even anger, so reducing pain points can help your patients feel more at ease in your office as well as in their memories of your office, which can affect their relationships with their pediatrician and how they may describe your office to others.

This is another great opportunity for a quality improvement project as well as a family-centered discussion. After all, who better to describe and propose solutions to obstacles families face than the parents themselves? The AAP has several great resources for eliciting feedback via focus groups and even creating a family advisory board. By gathering a community of parents and caregivers, families can honestly share their frustrations and their favorite aspects of your pediatric practice, offering unique insights into which pain points are the most crucial for your practice to address. Sometimes, caregivers might have their own solutions to offer from their objective point of view.

You show up each day for your patients so that they can lead happy and healthy lives. Whether you consider customer service part of your practice management style or prefer to think of it as patient satisfaction, paying close attention to your families’ thoughts and needs can help make their healthcare experience smoother for everyone. Part of accomplishing this is having teammates on your side that value the same level of quality care that you do. Learn how you can hire to build the team you’ve always dreamed of with our webinar, Hiring the Right People.

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Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and editor of The Independent Pediatrician. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.