Losing patients before they arrive

     Here’s a fact that gets too little attention: Patients dread having to contact their hospital or doctor. They hate having to explain their health needs to strangers, feeling rushed and knowing nothing about the doctor they’ll be seeing. 

What a waste! Here’s a golden opportunity to form a bond with patients, share information about you facility and get doctors prepared for the encounter.  Instead, most front-line personnel make people feel — in advance — like they’re already shivering, nearly nude, in a barely decent johnny gown.

Don’t tell me that your call center staff or receptionists are lovely people, and this should be enough.  They can be veritable saints, but if their job is to get you on and off the phone — no matter how nicely they do it — most people will find it at least a bit intimidating.

Here’s a few ideas for taking the chill off of potential patients:

*  E-mail a “welcome” document to those who have e-mail addresses.  Make sure it includes directions to your facility, a layout of your parking garage — and warnings if it tends to get full — and hey, why not a coupon for a free cup of coffee and snack?  Also, offer a link to form allowing people to list their preferences and questions.  All letters should have links to the physicians in the department or practice they’re visiting, as well.

If someone doesn’t have e-mail access, snail mail the same documents, and in those mailings, include a bio of the doctor the patient will see.

*  Ask patients, when they’re setting their appointment,  if they need help getting there, and reassure them that this won’t be a problem.  If they have transportation troubles, you may be able to help them;  if they need someone’s arm or a wheelchair to get from the door to their appointment, make that happen.

* Send patients a “thank you” note after they’ve had their appointment, and in the note, mention their next visit.  The thank you note, which can of course be via e-mail or snail mail, can include information on their condition and how they can help themselves.  This can make people feel far more connected to an institution than one that simply moves them through the assembly line.

*  If they’ve visited a hospital and had a procedure, make sure the patient or their caregiver has been sent a list of symptoms to be aware of and clinicians available to call.  Too many surgical patients – – myself included! — get sent out the door, shoveled into their loved ones’ car and told “call your doctor if you have a problem.”

Now, at nextHealth Media, we focus on content and community development solutions — but obviously, those can’t do the job alone. Other than smart content, what other steps do you think should be taken to make patients want to walk into your front door?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.