A better patient experience means better outcomes for both your patient and your practice. Let’s take a look at the patient experience as a whole and the critical stage of a patient's journey – the first scheduled appointment.
While every patient’s journey is different, the basic steps look somewhat the same. It starts with initial awareness and the realization that hearing care is needed. Once that happens, a patient typically enters the consideration phase, where they search and compare providers. They may look online or in a magazine or ask friends and family for recommendations.
When the patient selects a hearing care provider, they schedule an appointment online or via phone – also known as conversion.
After the initial appointment, assuming the patient is pleased with their experience and the care they received, they reach the final stages: patient loyalty and patient advocacy. Loyal patients are those who return to your practice for their hearing care needs and engage with you on an ongoing basis, whereas advocates recommend you to others in their family or social circles.
Between the conversion and loyalty stages is when the patient comes to your office for their first appointment. It is at this point where the patient gets a first impression of you, your staff, and your practice; fills out new patient forms; and meets with you or another provider to discuss symptoms, receive a hearing evaluation; and talk about treatment options.
Making each of these elements of the process as pleasant and convenient as possible will contribute to an overall positive experience and turn first-time patients into long-term patients.
A new patient’s experience starts before they come into your office for their first appointment. Having a strong online presence allows the patient to do background research and engage with you prior to their visit. They may need to find your phone number to call and ask a question, your address for directions, or your social media pages to follow for updates. If possible, make your new patient forms available and fillable on your website to save them time when they arrive for their appointment.
Have an appointment reminder strategy with both email (which can include your patient forms attached if having them online isn’t an option) and phone call reminders delivered to the patient in advance.
You might also send educational materials to a patient in advance to help them better prepare for their appointment. This can include information about what to expect at their upcoming hearing evaluation, the services offered at your practice, and the different types of hearing aids available. Again, make these available on your website to appeal to more digitally savvy patients.
Finally, whether it’s a day or an hour before the patient’s appointment, look through their completed forms and medical history (if referred from a physician) so you enter the first interaction armed with basic knowledge. The patient may become irritated if they have to repeat information they’ve already filled out in the forms.
When the patient walks into the door of your clinic, the experience you offer is truly put to the test. Evaluate your office atmosphere. Is your front desk and waiting area welcoming? A clean, comfortable setting sets the tone for a positive experience, while a dirty and/or disorganized one will certainly turn a patient off. The first person or people the patient will interact with will likely be your front office staff. Make sure these employees are equipped and empowered to warmly welcome and assist them. Refer to our recent blog post about how to motivate front office staff.
After a (ideally) short wait comes the one-on-one meeting with the patient in the exam room. During this time, ask questions to understand the severity of the patient’s hearing loss, including:
Make a point to get to know the patient beyond just their hearing issues and medical history as well. They may be concerned about the stigma associated with hearing aids or afraid of having to use a new piece of technology. By getting to know their needs, preferences, and hesitations, you’ll make them more comfortable and can therefore provide better care.
When working with a new patient – or any patient, for that matter – practice person-centered care. Recognize and respect differences in background, beliefs, values, and opinions. Listen carefully and be empathetic to the patient to create a positive, non-judgmental environment.
Finally, when discussing treatment, rather than telling the patient what to do, make the decision a joint effort. Provide recommendations based on research, your expert opinion, and the expressed experiences, needs, and interest of the patient. Encourage active participation from the patient – and other family members, if applicable – and work together on a plan of action.
Just as the patient experience begins before they show up for their appointment, it continues well after they’ve left. Once treatment begins, follow up with the patient to ensure their hearing aids or other treatments are achieving the desired outcome. That means evaluating hearing for improvements and talking with the patient to gauge satisfaction. The goal should be to provide continued care for the patient, as well as the things that are impacted by hearing loss: their social life, work, hobbies, and overall lifestyle. Patients that trust their provider and feel valued will become loyal; loyal patients become advocates for you and your practice – key to the success of your business.