A new study published in the journal Health Affairs uncovered startling statistics from “secret shoppers” (yes, they exist in healthcare too) of new patients looking to contact doctor offices for appointments. What they found was, simply put, “awful”
The callers contacted 743 doctors in five different regions of California who were listed as primary care physicians in their health plans’ online directories.
“We were a little bit surprised at how bad the numbers were,” said the study’s lead author, Simon Haeder, an assistant professor of political science at West Virginia University.
About 10 percent of the time, the providers either were no longer with the medical group listed in the directory or never had been.
It was discovered that in about 30 percent of cases, the callers were told that the doctor had a different specialty than the one listed.
About 20 percent of the time, the pseudo-patient callers were unable to reach the doctors at the numbers listed in the directories — despite repeated attempts — due to the lines being disconnected, messages not being returned, or for other reasons blocking the call.
These findings are “not a surprise,” said Betsy Imholz, special projects director of the advocacy group Consumers Union. “It’s a longstanding issue. In this new environment, we have to get better. That’s what our own work told us and this confirms it.”
The Health Affairs study also found that shoppers with “urgent” health problems such as high fevers or heavy bleeding during menstruation faced wait times of 8 to 12 days to get an appointment.
“As our analysis has shown,” the study concludes,
So how do we fix this communication backup and reach these 20%? Through improved communication.
Klara opens a direct channel for new and existing patients to communicate with doctors, office staff, pharmacists as well as any additional touchpoint personnel. New patients directly get an invite onto the Klara platform through which they can communicate to ensure no appointment gets overlooked.
Mystery shoppers (like I said - they are used in healthcare)
Hire a consulate group that conducts ‘mystery shopper’ programs. Incentivize employees who are rated high for customer service. Did you know that 97% of patient complaints stem from patient customer service issues? Your staff plays a larger part in your practice operations than you may think.
Online advertising campaigns
According to Geonetric, 81% of people click on a sponsored link when looking for health information, which could be crucial for gaining attention for your facility during the research phase. PPC ads work well because when someone sees the ad they are actively looking for information on that product or service, which means their intent to take an action is stronger and more likely to lead to a visit to your website, as compared to seeing an ad in a newspaper or billboard.
77% of patients used search prior to booking an appointment says Google, but how can you reach these patients? SEO or search engine optimization is the process of optimizing a website for ranking in the search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo to get in front of relevant people.
Databases for healthcare and business
By now, we're sure you've heard of ZocDoc, Yelp or referralMD. You may have profiles on sites like Google Business, that were set up for you by people willing to give reviews. Get proactive in managing your online reputation. Sign up for these online databases (especially the free ones), manage comments and encourage patients to leave reviews after their visits. Think about printing up some nice reminders in the waiting room to encourage patients to talk about their positive visits.
Embrace technological advances
People now expect better customer service and integration with technology. It's not just for the ‘Millennial’ generation anymore. Members of all age groups are adopting and responding to new and interesting technologies in their lives: from ride sharing on Uber to delivery services like Seamless and household chores on Handy. Integrating (useful) technology in your practice will give you the competitive advantage above other practices in your area.
Ask for references
This one is pretty straight forward, but often the most challenging for medical practitioners. Find out what method works best for your patients, they are your patients after all. Maybe encourage references via email marketing campaigns. Have services outside of your practice like cosmetic procedures? Offer deals on treatments for patients that refer friends.
Use easy PR to your advantage
At Klara, we're all about working smarter not harder. Follow journalists on social media and comment on their articles. Find your favorite physician or health publication and request to be a guest contributor. It's easier than it seems to shoot the editor over the email and explain why you have what it takes to share some knowledge (you are an MD after all).
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