Adding a Touch of Kindness with Patient Call Backs
By: Tina Bell Director of Marketing, HealthCARE Express Recently I took a trip to Jamaica, where I stayed on a resort named The Jewel. For me, it earned its name as the jewel of customer service. It was full of all the kindness and “nice-ities” I love. As I look back on that trip, I realize the one person who made me feel the most special during my stay was a man named Clarence. I became ill midway through the trip, and my fiancé, Brandon, called the front desk to have them bring me something to soothe my stomach. Clarence quickly brought some medication up to the room for me to take. He met Brandon in the hallway, so Clarence never knew what I looked like. The next morning at breakfast, I made it back from the buffet to our table before Brandon. As I sat down, Clarence approached my table. “How are you feeling this morning?” he asked. A bit shocked I replied, “Much better, thank you for asking." “I saw your fiancé at the breakfast buffet, so I knew it must be you. I just wanted to make sure there was nothing else I could do for you,” he said. Then he smiled and walked away. In that moment I realized just how important the daily call backs we do at our Medical Practices can be to a patient. Taking just a moment out of your day to let someone know you care about them enough to follow-up can create a raving fan of your Medical Practice for life. Step 1: Assign or Hire a Call Back Clerk In order to make sure call backs are successful, you need to hire or assign someone to be a call back clerk for your Medical Practice. Depending on the number of patients you see each day, this can be a part time or a full time position. It may also be a position your charge nurse can take care of. Realize the position requires a significant amount of patient interaction, so the person in charge of call backs must be genuinely interested in communicating with people over the telephone. On average, only about one third of the people you call will actually answer the phone, and of those, the majority of the calls will take less than a minute. Step 2: Understand Why You’re Doing Call Backs Sometimes calls last longer, and your call back clerk will have to be ready to handle problems. The person making the calls must be ready to handle a variety of questions, show compassion, and smooth over complaints. The primary reasons for doing call backs include: • Promptly recognizing a change in patient condition; • Uncovering patients’ concerns before complaints occur; • Getting feedback on your staff’s performance; • Minimizing complaints, claims, lawsuits, and payouts; and • Enhancing your Medical Practice’s reputation as a place that truly cares. Step 3: Set-Up a System When possible, all patients should be called back within 24 hours. Your Medical Practice should train your call back clerk on the proper steps to handle complaints. Some complaints may be easy for the clerk to handle on his/her own. Other complaints, especially complaints involving medical care, may require a second phone call from the provider who originally treated the patient. Creating a formal system will help ensure all complaints are also addressed by the appropriate person on the same day they are received. Failure to contact a patient back quickly after they file a complaint can greatly decrease your chances of appeasing the discord when you do contact them at a later time. Step 4: E-mail Patients Remember, you may not be able to reach all patients by telephone. Collecting e-mail addresses and sending daily e-mails inquiring about the level of service the patient received takes little time to implement and can provide a way for patients to contact you with complaints. Make sure e-mails are answered within 24 hours, and make sure the person answering e-mails knows to follow your Medical Practice’s patient complaint system. Even patients who write in positive comments deserve to be acknowledged for their kind words. Make sure you take the time to write back a thank you e-mail, showing your gratitude for both their kind words and for them utilizing your services. Also remember to share praise with your staff. Patient Call Backs Work Patient call backs can be time consuming. If you do not have the budget to hire someone to do this job full time, train several people to do it part time. But make sure you give them the opportunity to give a customer on the phone their undivided attention. To this degree, your receptionist may not always be the best person to handle call backs. The time and effort you put in to making sure your patients are satisfied with your service can pay off big. Studies show a satisfied customer will tell 2-3 people about his experience with your company. A dissatisfied consumer will tell 8-10 people. Studies also show unhappy customers will become loyal consumers if you fix their complaints and do it quickly. Eighty percent of angry patients will come back to you if you've treated them fairly. That percentage rises to the upper 90s if you respond immediately.