The Patient Experience; Should You Demand More From Your Doctor?

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Experiencing any health problem – a fever, a toothache, blurry vision – is bad enough.

Then comes the potentially excruciating part – the visit to a healthcare provider and the scheduling difficulties, long waits, and doctors and staff in a hurry that often can be a part of that experience.

But maybe – just maybe – patients are asking and expecting too little of the medical profession.

“Patients need to up the ante,” says Dr. Jeff Kegarise, an eye doctor, clinical and business management expert, and co-author with his wife, Susan, of One Patient at a Time: The K2 Way Playbook for Healthcare & Business Success (www.theK2Way.com). 

“They should expect not just good care, but good service. How good is healthcare, or any business for that matter, if it doesn’t meet your needs and wants?”

Here are a few questions that Kegarise says patients should ask themselves about their primary-care physicians, dentists, optometrists and other healthcare professionals:

  • Does the office provide a friendly and welcoming atmosphere? This may sound basic, but Kegarise insists that how phone calls are handled and how patients are greeted when they arrive is critical to a good patient experience. And, he says, not every office excels at this. “But patients should expect it,” Kegarise says. “Sometimes it seems that the bar has been lowered and patients simply have come to accept that the welcoming at a doctor’s office  is going to be unpleasant. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
  • Do they treat you as a person – or as an ailment? Kergarise bemoans the fact that in some medical offices, staff members refer to patients by their illness or injury, rather than by their names. “Doctor, there’s a knee contusion in room 1 and a gastric distress in room 2.” Kegarise says that if they refer to patients in that manner, they likely think of them that way, and not as people. “We have never seen a diseased eye walk into our practice,” he says. “No glaucoma checks in at the front desk, and no conjunctivitis sits down in my exam chair.”
  • Do they make sure you understand what they are telling you? It’s critical that patients understand the diagnosis and the planned care, so education should be part of the visit, Kegarise says. “There is a disparity between what we want patients to know and what patients can likely absorb,” he says, “so we reinforce what we say.” At his office, this includes providing the patient customized handouts summarizing everything from testing to medication to diagnoses.
  • Are they upfront about what they can and can’t do? Kegarise promotes a can-do, positive approach to responding to patients’ needs. But at the same time, he says, it’s important that medical professionals don’t overcommit. “If they promise something, they should be able to deliver,” he says. “If they can’t accomplish something the patient requests or needs, they should admit that and explain why it can’t be done.” It is okay to say “we can’t,” as long as you say, “yet here is what we can do,” he says.

“The more that patients want, expect, and demand from their doctor visit, the better the level of standard care provided will be,” Kegarise says. “Most doctors want to provide better care, yet many feel too constrained by the ever-increasing administrative burdens and declining reimbursements – each of which cuts into the time available for patient care. Those business pressures do exist, but they are not an excuse for delivering a poor patient experience.”
 

About Dr. Jeff Kegarise

Dr. Jeff Kegarise is a board-certified optometrist, clinical and business management expert, and co-author with his wife, Dr. Susan Kegarise, of One Patient at a Time: The K2 Way Playbook for Healthcare & Business Success (www.theK2Way.com). He has lectured for many years on clinical disease, and his management methods were recognized by The Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Kegarise is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry and completed his Residency at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.