Improve the patient experience with anticipatory patient service

How do you describe the feeling when you are at a restaurant, and the waiter sees your coffee cup at less than half full (never half empty) and without asking they refill the cup or better yet, bring you a fresh cup of coffee?  If you are like most customers, you have a nice feeling about the restaurant and the waiter as they have anticipated your needs.  Usually, this anticipatory customer service results in an added tip or an increase in the percentage of the bill allocated to the tip.

Shep Hyken, a dear friend, and customer service expert, calls this proactive customer service.  It is possible that we can offer that same kind of proactive, anticipatory service to our patients.

For example, you prescribe a medication for your patient.  Years ago, I wrote out the prescription; patted the patient on the back and told them to make a follow-up appointment in two weeks.  No explanation and no further discussion.

Today, the contemporary patient is much more sophisticated, more informed, and expects more from their health care provider.  For that reason, I provide a FAQ form on the drug that was prescribed which answers their most frequently asked questions such as what is the purpose of the drug, what are the side effects of the drug, what drug-drug interactions that should be avoided, and what to do if the patient misses taking the medication.  The patient is asked to read the form before leaving, and any questions that are not answered are addressed before the patient leaves the office.

My best example of anticipatory patient services is calling the patient at home.  I know that a patient who is just discharged from the hospital, or had a one-day surgery in an ambulatory treatment center or in the office has questions that need to be answered in order that the patient makes a good recovery and avoid complications or readmission to the hospital.  I anticipate these patients will need to speak to a nurse or the doctor.  Knowing their needs, these special patients are called at home on the day of discharge, and their questions are answered.  The response from patients is even greater than having the waiter refill the cup of coffee.  Most patients are in awe that the office or the doctor called them at home.  You can almost hear the phone drop in disbelief that their doctor/office called them at home.

A final example is related to the high cost of medications.  Patients will often express sticker shock when they take your prescription to the pharmacy only to find that the cost of prescription is several hundred dollars.  As a result, the patient will contact the office, state that the prescription is too expensive or, even worse, fail to fill the prescription and don’t notify the office of their decision.  Since most medical practices only use 10 to 20 drugs most of the time, the office can provide them with a sheet listing the costs of the medications at various pharmacies within the community.  You will be amazed that there may be a cost differential of 40 percent between pharmacies in the same area.  Patients now know the cost of the drug and the pharmacies that offer the least expensive medications.  You have now anticipated the patient’s needs, and they are most appreciative of your efforts.

Anticipatory patient service is about being one step ahead of patients’ thinking and needs. It’s intuitive. It’s not just noticing something. It’s anticipating something. Anticipating your patient’s needs is like a game of chess. The best players don’t just think of the very next move they have to make. They visualize what the next four or five moves are going to be, anticipating how their opponent will react to each move. Similarly, you should always try to be at least one or two moves ahead of your patients, anticipating what they might want or need.

Bottom line: Anticipatory patient service is about being in tune with your patient, getting them what they need before they ask for it — or even before they know to ask for it. It shows that you are patient-centered and strive to deliver an amazing patient experience.

Neil Baum is a urologist and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practices: Ethically, Effectively, Economically. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Neil Baum, MD, or on Facebook and Twitter.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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