Patient satisfaction: What restaurants can teach doctors

Americans are notoriously generous and good tippers.  However, there are some servers who get “over the top” gratuities.  How do they do it?

1. They make a concerted effort to reach out and touch someone.  How many physicians enter a room and never touch a patient?  They are touching more keyboards than hearts.  I have learned from complementary healthcare providers that there’s a medicinal value of touching the patient.  Every chiropractor, reflexologist, or massage therapist touch their clients.  Doctors would do well to learn from their practitioners by touching our patients.  Examples can include a handshake, a gentle touch on the shoulder, or even taking the patient’s blood pressure instead of assigning that task to a nurse.

2. Get eyeball to eyeball with the patient. Excellent servers will often stoop down or squat and become eyeball to eyeball with the customer.  Doctors who stand during the entire visit are not communicating as well as the doctor who pulls up a chair and is at the same level as the patient.

3. Give them something extra.  Everyone likes something above and beyond what is expected.  In New Orleans we call something extra “lagniappe” and in the Northeast it is referred to as the baker’s dozen.  In the restaurant industry it may consist of a plate of small appetizers as soon as the guests take their seats, a taste of the wines that are sold by the glass, or a few peppermints delivered with the check.

In my practice, I offer the patient to take magazines from the exam rooms that they are reading when I walk into exam room.  This is one way to avoid that dictum: “never go to a doctor with dead plants, dead fish, or magazines more than 6 months old!”  Every patient receives sample medication of any new prescription, a FAQ form on the use of the medication, and additional written educational material on their disease state or the treatment that was suggested.

4. End each encounter by saying something positive.  Servers have known that if they mention something positive about the weather that their tips go up compared to talking about how terrible it is outside.  We should try to end each visit by giving the patients hope and provide encouragement.  Even if the patient has a terminal illness, you can offer to be helpful in relieving pain and discomfort.

Bottom line:  Physicians don’t make their living on tips.  But we do make our living by patient satisfaction.  Patients who are satisfied with the care that we provide will become loyal patients and will tell others about the superior service that they have received with their doctor and the practice.  Take a tip from your restaurant server and use a few of these ideas with your patients.  Your satisfaction surveys will significantly increase.

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

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