Health care is changing. We are seeing a greater focus on patient satisfaction and a shift toward pay-for-performance reimbursement models. These changes require a change in the way doctors operate their practices, from physician-focused to patient-focused.

Many doctors think they are running a patient-focused practice without stopping to consider what that really means, writes medical practice management specialist Owen Dahl in Physicians Practice. For instance, is your schedule designed to accommodate doctors or geared toward patients? Dahl identifies five elements of a patient-focused practice. Read on to find out what they are, and be sure to follow the links to our previously published posts for more information on each topic.

1. First, find out what patients want.

You may assume the answer is obvious: excellent care. However, for most patients that’s a given. Other factors may actually be more important in deciding whether or not to choose your practice, such as hours, location, wait times, recommendations, and online reviews.

So how do you find out what patients want? You can conduct patient satisfaction surveys (although be cautious of whether they’re doing more harm than good). You should also check your online reviews and doctor rating sites from time to time.

It’s not enough to simply collect feedback, however. You must also demonstrate that you take it seriously and act on it—by responding to complaints and comments, if warranted, and by making changes to give patients what they want. That may be a more inviting waiting room, better customer service, or extended hours. You won’t know until you do some digging.

2. Prioritize the doctor-patient relationship.

The importance of good interactions and communication between providers and patients cannot be overstated. It affects perception of care, outcomes, and referrals. Whether or not a doctor shows empathy can even impact malpractice risk. Don’t downplay simple actions that mean a lot to patients: greet them by name, look them in the eye, and ask about their families or hobbies. It doesn’t take a lot of time to let a patient know you see him or her as a person, not a chart.

3. Ensure that your staff is responsive to patients.

Your staff is often the first impression patients get of your practice. You want competent, engaged employees who are as committed to your patients as you are. Hiring and retaining the right people is crucial, and will save you time and money in the long run. This requires paying competitive salaries, of course, but also investing in properly training your staff. Providing training in new technologies can boost employee engagement, because it gives your staff the skills they need to add value to the practice and progress in their careers.

Incentives and bonuses can also improve employee satisfaction and performance. Money is not the only way to reward staff, either; bringing in lunch or giving them an afternoon off costs little but makes a big impact.

4. Remove obstacles to patient-focused care.

These obstacles may include poor bedside manner or too little time with patients, according to Dahl. And now that 80 percent of doctors use EHRs, overuse of screens can hurt the doctor-patient relationship, too.

Considering how you use technology in the exam room is important. A recent survey found that the vast majority of patients are OK with their doctors using technology during visits, and 58 percent also said that technology positively impacts their overall experience, especially when it’s “used collaboratively to educate or explain.”

The type of technology you use may make all the difference. “In my clinical training and in the literature, [I observed] that both patients and doctors barely tolerate desktop computers in the exam room because of the feeling of too much time looking at a screen instead of the patient — but almost everyone loves tablets,” wrote Amanda Angelotti, MD, on KevinMD.com.

5. Understand where your patients are coming from.

All patients are not created equal. Factors such as their age, cultural background, and health literacy can make a difference in whether they are likely to take an active, passive, or collaborative role in their care. Each generation makes health care decisions differently, but doctors can help all patients learn to be their own health care advocates. After all, you may be the medical expert, but your patients are the experts on their bodies.

The key to creating a patient-focused practice “is to gain an understanding of the patient perspective, remove obstacles, and to be as transparent and proactive as possible in meeting the needs of each … patient,” writes Dahl.

Our blog is chock-full of practical posts on practice management, patient engagement, patient education, and more.

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