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HMR 1st Qtr 2013: Handle your practice like the business it is - Part 1: the practice environment

HMR Africa


Many ingredients are necessary to sustain the financial viability of any business, not excluding a professional practice. It is a fact of life that, in the medical, dental and associated professions, the major part of our occupational income is directly proportional to the actual time spent with patients (clients). Many of us tend to become so preoccupied with the obvious fundamentals - either consulting or performing clinical procedures - that we have little time or inclination for the other things that are essential to efficiently maintain a small business, which is exactly what each individual practice is.

One may loosely classify the major components of running a health services practice into:
  • maintaining a good standard of service and facilities;
  • acquisition and retention of clients i.e. our patients;
  • good commercial principles, regarding remuneration, cash flow and management of our finances.

Clinical excellence is an expected norm and good financial principles can be the subject of a whole series of discussions. The purpose of this article is only to deal with finding and keeping patients.

Sustaining a patient base

In the not-so-distant past, as long as you had a good clinical success rate and were reasonably compassionate, you literally “had it made”. Marketing or advertising of your services was virtually unnecessary – demand far exceeded supply. Similarly, the image that your practice presented was relatively unimportant.

More recently, as economic and other factors changed, some method of attracting patients became necessary. Some have gone the route of advertising their services – by means of bigger signs, posters, adverts in various lay publications and even discounting. This type of marketing is commonly known as outbound marketing, which relies on a person seeing or hearing your advert at just the right time and rushing out to make an appointment with you!

The contemporary trend, researched and proven, is to rather use ‘inbound marketing’, a method that speaks to your existing best resource – your existing patients.

In the modern environment, we may not take our patients for granted but we need to:

  • make them feel welcome;
  • communicate with them;
  • ensure that our facilities are up to the standards they expect and deserve; and
  • make them feel that we not only care for them but also about them.

Is your practice a welcoming environment?

The reception area of the practice is your “show-room” and your staff members, particularly those in the front office, are your PROs.

Do you ever enter your premises via the reception area, or do you usually sneak in and out through the back door? A good test of the image that your practice presents is to enter through the front door - stop for a moment, look around and take note of your patients’ first impressions.

Your guest room

  • Are you able to reach the front desk without tripping over furniture?
  • Is the furniture comfortable, and its appearance acceptable?
  • Are notices about your payment policy and dealing with medical aids scattered randomly on the walls, attached by presstick or yellowing sticky tape?
  • Other than official notices, do you have any pictures on the wall and, if so, are they framed and, again if so, is there a layer of dust on the top of the frame?
  • Are your magazines from this year, or even this century?
  • Do you have anything green or floral in the seating area?
  • Is your filing cabinet, visible to patients, a Second World War metal locker, the drawers of which stick or are your patient files just piled on the reception desk?
  • Is a member of staff allocated to regularly check if your toilets and vanity area are clean, neat and stocked with toilet paper, facial tissues and a room-freshening spray?

If the answer to most of the questions above is “no”, you might want to ignore the Johnny Walker slogan to “keep walking”. Perhaps you need to stop walking and start thinking about the image you want to present!

Possible solutions

It is not essential for your premises to be designed or refurbished by the top interior decorator in town, or for you to have to take out a new mortgage bond to make improvements – small inexpensive changes can make the world of difference.

A few examples to consider are:

  • a fresh coat of paint for the offices;
  • have notices framed and neatly hung (inexpensive picture frames are readily available from discount stores.);
  • have your lounge suite cleaned on site or use inexpensive loose covers over the torn upholstery;
  • display a few current common-interest magazines (and remove the old, torn ones);
  • display a vase of natural or silk flowers;
  • have a rented water cooler or even a jug of ice water with a few glasses ready for patient use;
  • a kiddies’ corner.

Your P.R.O.s

Many patients spend more time waiting for you than consulting you, and are more likely to interact with your reception and nursing staff than with you! They seek efficiency, advice or empathy from the person sitting behind the desk. They are also far more likely to ask questions of, or to reveal personal circumstances to your receptionist or nurse than you.

Your staff should be trained and expected to:

  • smile;
  • pay attention to your clients when they walk into your rooms;
  • if busy on the phone, at least acknowledge the presence of the person in front of the counter;
  • know and greet your patients by name;
  • be organised and efficient but at the same time empathetic;
  • dress appropriately for a professional environment (not necessarily to look like fashion models);
  • have some knowledge of what to ask and what to say when a patient arrives or calls;
  • have the training and intuition to determine when a patient needs to consult you urgently;
  • know when you need to be interrupted or if a message can wait until you have finished seeing your patents for the day.

(At first sight, these tips might appear to have been naïve or even superfluous, but all of these are based on personal observations – both positive and negative!)

It is not necessarily to immediately give your practice a complete makeover, or to replace your entire staff. However, attention to some of the details mentioned will place you in a position to take the next step, which is to improve the image of your practice.

*Dr Jeff Michelson, (BDS, WITS), Developer and proprietor: Transcend Dental Solutions.

Posted on Monday, May 27 @ 11:53:14 SAST by E-Doc
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HMR Africa


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