April 2010
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In This Issue
Advice from Upper Classmen
In the Best Practices... Spotlight on Internal Medicine of Northern Michigan
Q & A: Collecting Payment for Self-Pay Visits
User's Corner: The Doctor's Willingness to Listen Carefully
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Welcome to the spring edition of SullivanLuallin's BENCHMARK newsletter! This quarter,
Austin Regional Clinic shares recommendations from their senior doctors to new physicians; we spotlight Internal Medicine of Northern Michigan's staff recognition program; tips for collecting payment for self-pay visits; and a regional comparison of patient perception of the doctor's willingness to listen carefully.

Please feel free to forward this newsletter to your friends and colleagues.

- The SullivanLuallin Team

Advice from Upper Classmen

Young Doctor & Older DoctorRecently Austin Regional Clinic, a practice of more than 150 physicians, solicited advice for new physicians from senior doctors who had been with the practice for years. The following, in their own words, is a sample of the practical recommendations offered by these seasoned practitioners.

1. We are professionals and we are running a business.  Remember that clinical practice is our largest source of revenue and we want our patients to return when they need healthcare. Except for habitual abusers, do not punish patients for being occasionally late or treat them like 7th graders. Try to stay on time whenever possible.

2. When the diagnosis and/or treatment is uncertain, share your decision-making with the patient so he or she better understands what and when to report back.

3. Call or write families after the death of a patient for acknowledgment and closure.

4. Get paid. Flip back through the chart and address old business. Then code for it.

5. Stay in communication with your partners. I learn something new every day. Share information and pass on important practice-building techniques.

6. Have a great nurse who is willing to do extra for the patients and you.

7. Ask the patient, "What is your primary concern?"

8. Sit down. When the doctor sits down and makes eye contact with patients, they feel they are being treated more respectfully than when the doctor rushes in and stands with his/her head in the chart or at some computer device.

9. Start on time. Long waits in doctors' offices rival the Post Office for comic strip material.

10. Enjoy yourself in your office and your exam room. Ask for advice from your partners about how they handle a particular thing that doesn't work right. Put a piece of yourself in each of your exam rooms for your patients to appreciate.

In the Best Practices...
Spotlight on Internal Medicine of Northern Michigan, PLLC

How can your practice encourage staff members to deliver star-studded service? One way is to implement a recognition program, like the team at Internal Medicine of Northern Michigan (IMNM) in Petoskey, MI. This ten-provider practice developed an internal program "Going the Extra Mile" (referred to as "GEM"), where co-workers, patients and physicians can recognize another member of the IMNM team for going above and beyond on behalf of a patient or in their job duties. Comment cards and Comment Line messages can result in GEM activity, so the notification method can vary. Recognition forms are posted on the GEM bulletin board, minus any identifiable patient data (name, etc.) when appropriate. Says Robert Farrell, Practice Administrator, "We have randomly drawn from these GEMs for goody bags/gift certificates at the end of the year, with drawings held at the annual company Christmas party. It has had a very positive impact within our team."
Q & A: Collecting Payment for Self-Pay Visits

With so many of our patients out of work and with no insurance, we've had an upsurge in the number of self pay visits. On occasion, when we bill these patients, we can't collect. It's frustrating. Do you have any ideas?

Many practices are stuck in the old mindset of sending the patient a bill for the visit. It's not surprising that in this economy, the group is left chasing after a patient who doesn't have the money to pay - or who chooses not to pay. The solution is to collect either all or a large portion of the fees up front. When the patient calls to make the appointment, the scheduler verifies the insurance coverage. If the patient has none, the scheduler simply says that there is a deposit required at the time of the visit. The amount depends on your specialty and typical first time charges. This amount can range from $100-$300. Some practices tell the patient there is a discount for cash. The hurdle to surmount is the reluctance to ask for payment at time of service. Don't be shy. Gas stations do it all the time!

Have a question you'd like our team to answer? Email us!
Users' Corner:
Regional Differences in Patient Perception of the Doctor's Willingness to Listen Carefully

The MGMA-SullivanLuallin patient survey database says something important about regional differences in scores for patient perceptions of the doctor's "Willingness to listen carefully to you."

The illustration below shows each region's score for this survey question, which correlates significantly with overall satisfaction and willingness to refer the provider to others: 

Willingness to listen carefully - Regional Comparison
So how can you score as high as the Southeast region average for this survey question? Try these simple techniques:

1. Allow patients to tell their stories. Studies show that patient who are allowed to finish their thoughts usually do so within 90-120 seconds.

2. Respond with an empathy statement. Empathy -  e.g., "That must be difficult for you" - is the key ingredient in communicating!

3. Explore the patient's knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about the illness. Asking "What have you tried so far?" or "What do you think would help?" validate patients' intelligence, even if they're wrong.

4. Ask about the patient's "personal cost." Your interest in how the patient's life is affected translates into "I care about you as a person, not just as a diagnosis code."
For more information about how we can help your physicians raise survey scores, email us or call 619.283.8988 today!

SullivanLuallin specializes in patient satisfaction services, and is the premier healthcare customer service consulting firm in the nation. For over 25 years, we've helped physician practices implement Customer Service Initiatives that produce immediate improvement and ongoing results. Clients come to us for on-site and web-based Customer Service training, Shadow Coaching for low-scoring physicians, Mystery Patient/Mystery Caller assessments, and Customer Satisfaction surveys.