July 2010
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In This Issue
The Power of a Mystery Patient Visit
In the Best Practices... Spotlight on Minnesota Gastroenterology
Q & A: Patients with Lists of Questions
User's Corner: The Doctor Taking Time to Answer Your Questions
Staff Feature: Lucie Sutherland
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Welcome to the summer edition of SullivanLuallin's BENCHMARK newsletter! This quarter,
we explain how mystery patient visits help you get the real scoop on your practice; spotlight Minnesota Gastroenterology's staff pride program; include tips for managing a visit when a patient brings a list of questions; show a regional comparison of patient perception of the doctor taking time to answer questions; and introduce our newest team member, Lucie Sutherland!

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

- The SullivanLuallin Team

The Power of a Mystery Patient Visit
By Meryl Luallin

Recently as part of a service assessment preceding a Customer Service Initiative we recommended that the practice conduct several mystery patient visits.  "That's ok, there's no need," said the administrator of a large multi-specialty practice, "We pretty much know everything that goes on.  We won't hear anything new."

"Hmmm," I thought to myself, "if you only knew..."  I thought back to the visits I'd made to practices that had been confident that they were privy to day to day operations, and the surprises they received when they read the report.

For example, there was the Internal Medicine practice in an Eastern state, where I visited to "get advice on how to quit smoking."  (Though I'm not a smoker, it's an easy symptom to use for a primary care visit.) The physician, an Internist, was very thorough.  He took a full health history in his office, and then had me go into the exam room to disrobe for a more complete physical.  He listened to my heart and lungs, palpated by belly and then told me to roll over onto my side.  When I asked why, he said that he was going to perform a rectal exam.  Astounded I said, "But I just want to quit smoking!" I persuaded him that I didn't need further examination or testing - just a prescription for a medicine that would help me kick the habit.

Frankly, had I been a real patient, I would have never returned to the practice nor would I have had a positive thing to say about my experience to friends or family.  We recommended to the doctor that he should tell patients in advance what will take place during the exam to eliminate the unpleasant surprise factor.

A second experience also convinces me that practices don't know as much as they think about what goes on at the front desk.  I checked into an Orthopedic practice and paid my self-pay $300 cash deposit.  My visit charge was $95.  As I left, I went to the counter and requested my change.  Imagine my surprise when the receptionist replied, "Oh we don't give the money back, we put it on account against your next visit." I gave her a sharp look and said, "But I'm not coming back. I got what I needed today.  I want my change."  Again the receptionist repeated, "We don't give the money back. We send you a check at the end of our next month's billing cycle."  It took some real pressure on two reluctant receptionists who finally relented and returned my remaining cash.

The practice's policy had been rescinded years ago, but had never been relayed to the folks at the front desk.  Once again, as a first time patient, I was underwhelmed by my first impression.

How things REALLY happen in your practice is probably different from what you believe.  Try a professional mystery patient visit and get the real scoop!

In the Best Practices...
Spotlight on Minnesota Gastroenterology

Dr. AltMinnesota Gastroenterology, Inc. (MNGI) employees take pride in their practice and the empathetic care they provide to patients. In fact, each August staff members celebrate their pride and dedication to patients by sporting the button pictured to the left.  In addition, the group sets up dry erase boards on easels in the registration area and encourages patients to complete the sentence, "I like MNGI because...."  Patient compliments including, "You really put me at ease for my procedure," and "Everyone here is so calm and compassionate," reinforce employees' pride and commitment to the organization and its mission.
Q & A: Patients with Lists of Questions

Some of our doctors seem buffaloed by patients who arrive with lists of questions.  In fact, they say that these lists contribute to their running behind.  Is there an easy solution?

Not all providers cringe at the sight of a list.  In fact, many doctors like it when patients produce a written set of questions.  "I like to know up front what patients expect from the visit," said one family practitioner at a recent Excelling at the Art of Medicine workshop.  The first step when patients reach for a list is to get them to give it to the doctor.  If patients "dole out" their questions one at a time, they'll be in control of the pace of the visit, not the provider.  Once the doctor has the list she can quickly scan the questions and prioritize in order of importance.

Getting the list away from the patient isn't always easy. Dr. Daniel Konold uses the line, "Seeing all your complaints at once often lets me come to a more accurate diagnosis." For patients who say, "But, you can't read my writing," a good response is, "I'm a doctor. I can read anybody's writing!"

Finally, if the patient still clings to the list, the doctor's best bet is to pull his chair alongside the patient and review the list together.

Have a question you'd like our team to answer? Email us!
Users' Corner:
Regional Differences in Patient Perception of the Doctor Taking Time to Answer Questions

The MGMA-SullivanLuallin patient survey database says something important about regional differences in scores for patient perceptions of the doctor "Taking time to answer your questions."

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: 

Regional comparison of the doctor "taking time to answer questions"
So how can you persuade your patients that you're spending time to answer their questions? Try these simple techniques:
1. Use eye contact. Studies show that eye contact equates with patient perceptions not only of how much time a physician is spending with them, but also reinforces the notion that patients have important things to say.
2. Use the phrase "That's a good question." To build patients' self-esteem. This is an "empathy" techniques that tells patients their thoughts and answers are important to you, and worth listening to.
3. Provide written information on the patient's illness or injury. There are several excellent sources of information, many provided by pharmaceutical companies, which you can download and print; giving written clarification also reduces the workload from call-backs asking you to repeat information for patients and/or care-givers.
4. Clarify the patient's understanding. Be certain that the explanation and/or treatment plan is simple enough for patients to understand and "bring back" to their family members.
For more information about how we can help your physicians raise survey scores, email us or call 619.283.8988 today!

Staff Feature: Lucie Sutherland

Staff Photo - LucieAfter graduating from Chico State University with a degree in Communication Studies, Lucie decided to pursue a career as a Project Coordinator. She brings to the company over 6 years of experience in this role, and currently  has the primary responsibility of handling the myriad details that ensure our client's Customer Service programs are successful. Only three months with the company and Lucie is already receiving accolades for easing our client's administrative burdens!  In her spare time, Lucie enjoys athletic activities such as running, hiking, yoga and aerobics; reading; traveling; and spending time with her friends and family.
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.

Dr. Alt