Have you taken an objective look at your office lately?

Have you taken an objective look at your office lately?

Healthcare providers have a special challenge – balancing patient care with efficiency.

If your practice is like most, you have a waiting room full of sick people. Even those who are there for well visits may have anxiety related to visiting the doctor.

This means that you and your team should work twice as hard to make the patient care experience a positive one. Think about your office and the experience your patients have.

What do your patients see when they pull up into the parking lot and then walk in the door of your medical office? Try to put yourself in their shoes and take a good look at both your office and your patients’ experience.

Is your office open and inviting or is it cluttered and cramped? Remember, patients have choices. They want to go to a medical practice where they feel comfortable, valued and respected. How would you rate your office in the following areas?

1. Friendly intake staff

All too often, the intake staff is under the gun to get patients checked in, insurance information updated, charts pulled and phones answered to the point that the patient at the window barely gets a glance, much less a smile.

But as the first point of contact for patients, it is important for your intake team to give each patient a little special attention.

Using the patient’s name, making eye contact and speaking in a friendly tone is important. Sometimes patients feel more like cattle being herded through the system than like people who need care.

Remind your team that insurance information is like a foreign language to most patients, even though it has become very familiar to the staff.

While answering the same questions over and over again can become monotonous, your staff members must take care to answer every patient’s question as though it is the only thing that matters.

2. Comfortable waiting area

Hopefully, your patients don’t have to wait too long in your waiting area, but when there is an unexpected delay, you want your patients to be comfortable.

Is the waiting room clean and in good repair? Your space can look cluttered and uninviting if the paint is dull and the furniture is dingy and tattered.

Your furniture doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be clean and sturdy. Invest a little time and money to brighten up the space. Make sure you have sufficient lighting as well. What about reading material? Do you have up-to-date, interesting magazines or books for the patients to enjoy? Do you have well-displayed literature on appropriate healthcare topics? Providing distractions like these will help the waiting time seem shorter.

In addition to the lobby area, assess the shape of anything your patient can see in the reception area, hallways and examination rooms. Are there damaged furniture or walls, stacks of papers that you may have become accustomed to – anything that is an eyesore or interferes with efficient office operations? If so, maybe it’s time for a facelift or cleanup.

Pay particular attention to any confidential medical information open to view in violation of HIPAA guidelines. Plan to spend some time and money on areas that need improving.

If clutter is your problem, invest in shelving or bins to help you organize and make better use of your space. Revisit your record retention policy and send old files off-site to a safe storage location. There are many companies set up for just that purpose, and they can retrieve records for you easily upon request.

If you’ve truly outgrown your space, a professional space planner may be able to help you with creative ways to position furniture or reconfigure walls and traffic patterns to buy you a little time before you’ll need to move. At some point, though, you’ll likely have to bite the bullet and contract for more space.

3. Minimal wait time

How quickly are patients taken to a treatment room? How long do they have to wait for you once they get there?

Healthcare providers have to maintain a delicate balance when it comes to patient loads. You need enough patients to keep the practice profitable and to allow for no-shows,yat the same time, you need a manageable patient load to allow you to give each person the time deserved without undue waiting. It’s a tough balance to strike.

In any practice, there will be days when the schedule goes awry and patients have to wait longer than you would like. If this is more than an occasional occurrence in your practice, think about ways to improve the patient experience and minimize the wait.

4. Experience with the doctor

When your patients leave your office, do they feel they’ve really seen you? Or do they feel they’ve been whisked through the system?

You’re already under tremendous pressure to balance the time you spend with patients and the patient load you need to maintain a healthy practice. Insurance companies add to the dilemma by specifying how long they think a particular visit should take.

But your patients don’t really care about either of those issues. They want to see you and feel that you have really seen them.

Little things can help in this area. For instance, if you don’t already do this, try sitting down for a couple of minutes at the beginning of each visit to talk with patients. Don’t look at the chart, the computer, your instruments or anything else. Make good eye contact, and show patients that you care about them.

Don’t rush right into the diagnosis and prescription. This is one time when efficiency may not equate to effectiveness in the eyes of the patient.

Take a good look at these four areas to see if there are areas that could be improved. Show your patients that you are welcoming, organized and respectful of their needs from the moment they walk in the door.