I am dealing with a small but vocal group of disgruntled patients who are upset about having to wait a few weeks to get an appointment. These patients complain to my front desk who then feels so guilty she squeezes them earlier. This makes the schedule even crazier. What do I do about these patients who threaten to leave my practice for one less busy?
Dr. M, Illinois
Dear Dr. M,
There are two extremes of patient categories: apostles and terrorists. Every practice wants apostles but sometimes you end up with terrorists. Because patients don’t necessarily enter your practice fitting one of those categories, your customer service practices have a lot to do with creating them. Can you prevent patients turning into terrorists? Yup – through inoculation. With inoculation, you anticipate a complaint and solve it even before the patient says anything. So, if there is going to be a lag time between diagnosis and the appointment, you say to the patient:
“Because you need a filling, we’re going to recommend a specific appointment time for you in the next 6 weeks. It will be perfectly safe and we’ll be able to take care of you completely.”
You have now changed a potential problem into a benefit. It is going to be hard for a patient to complain about “being taken care of completely.” The inoculation technique can be used for any situation where you anticipate a patient objection or concern.
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