Have you ever tried this exercise: look at your practice the way your patient sees you?
From the first call made for an appointment, from the quick web search, to the moment the patient opens the door – these are all “first impressions” to the patient. These first impressions set the tone of how the patient will view you before they have laid eyes on you.
Those first few minutes – in fact, the first 60 seconds – can set the tone of the entire patient experience. I admit that I have a bias against the sliding glass windows at the reception desk. I also understand why they are there. In larger practices, the reception area can be separated from where the clinical staff sits.
That said, when people walk into the office, they will focus on the window. They are unlikely to see many of the signs that practices have a habit of sticking up on the windows, walls, etc. I was just in a practice a few days ago, and was again surprised by the handwritten, somewhat sloppy signs stuck up on a door, the walls, and windows. This practice has two windows, and a sign next to one read, “Appointments sign in here”. Well, we were coming in as a walk-in during the “sick hour” – no appointment, so do I sign in, or do I go to the other (open) window and check in there? (The answer: sign in the same place).
It is critical to acknowledge the patient as soon as possible – that is, as long as a staff person is at the window. Even if they are on the phone, the staffer needs to be aware of what is happening around them, and visually acknowledge the person at the window. A “doorbell” or bell can also be used to alert staff. It as allowable to have a sign in sheet at window, which is one way to at least start the check in process, and the patient doesn’t have to stand around.
If you are running more than, say, 15 minutes behind, you should be telling patients this information. It is the unknown that is annoying. In those cases where the physician has to leave for an emergency, offer to reschedule patients, even if you have to then re-schedule other patients down the line. Frankly, if you are booked solid for months in advance – it’s time to add another clinician (physician or mid-level).
The first contacts with your patient set the tone for the visit. This comes from the visual settings as well as the greeting from your staff. If you have too many messages, you have too many messages, and patients won’t get them anyway. Plan your visual settings and messages to be simple and clear.