Bariatric Times

Spotlight on Patient Financing April 2016

A peer-reviewed, evidence-based journal that promotes clinical development and metabolic insights in total bariatric patient care for the healthcare professional

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A2 Bariatric Times [V O L U M E 1 3 , N U M B E R 4 • A P R I L 2 0 1 6 • S U P P L E M E N T A ] SPOTLIGHT ON PATIENT FINANCING can potential patients. The practice that meets the hour-or-less turnaround will reach people during the time frame they are actually thinking about the procedure, and "wow" patients with their quick response. In fact, based on our mystery shopping, this one change could set you apart from competitors, and there will be more competitors offering this procedure. With regard to the professionalism of the responses we received, again, there was significant variation. We received a number of well-written responses from staff that identified themselves as a patient coordinator or patient advocate and included a business-like signature with detailed contact information and promotional information about the practice. (e.g., one had a statement that the physician was listed in a local magazine's "10 Best.") These e-mails often included an attached brochure, upcoming seminar dates, and information in addition to what we asked. It was clear that these folks actually read our questions because they responded to us personally. Personalized correspondence such as this wins points with elective, retail-minded patients. On the other hand, we received cryptic e-mails with a first name and no phone number, e-mails from some practices with grammar errors and informal punctuation (a no-no), and responses that did not match our questions. In one instance, although we asked about gastric balloon, the staff sent adjustable gastric band surgery materials. We had clearly submitted our inquiry via an online form on the practice's website, yet staff suggested "visiting the website." These responses suggest a lack of effort and staff training, and a failure on the practice's part to recognize just how important the potential patient's first interaction is to a positive impression. Finally, for the web inquiries submitted, we received auto- response e-mails from six practices. This is positive. An auto-response is a customized message that is automatically sent after someone submits a contact form. It thanks them for their inquiry and lets them know who will follow up. Unfortunately, several of the auto- responder messages were poorly written or had grammatical errors. Worse, only one of the six practices ever did contact us/answer our questions. Ever. Consider the potential revenue loss. Our experience contacting practices by phone was not stellar either. Calls to the 34 practices resulted in 25 conversations. For the remaining nine, the results were somewhat shocking: • Five practices transferred us to voice mail. We left a message but never received a call back. • Two practices collected our contact information and said that someone would call back shortly—but they never did. • One practice had an "out of office" recording with no way for a caller to leave a message. • One practice's primary location phone number rang for more than two minutes, then simply hung up. The phone number for the second location was a non- working number. A best practice is to train the staff who answers the phone to answer basic questions about the procedures a physician performs (e.g., price range, general description of the procedure, and recovery time). Yet, in our mystery shopping project, more than 50 percent of the time the person who answered the phone couldn't answer such questions and transferred us one or more times. The act of transferring a call is an inflection point that can result in the loss of that potential patient. When callers are put on hold or transferred, they can become frustrated. They may not have the time or patience to wait, and could hang up and move on to your competitor. Another troubling data point: 48 percent of the time we spoke to someone, at no time during the call did the person ask us if we wanted to schedule a consultation. Money spent on marketing your practice goes down the drain if your staff doesn't even invite potential patients to come in for a consultation. Of course, not all phone inquiries were bad. There were several exceptional employees (and one physician) who returned our calls. They were upbeat, knowledgeable, and demonstrated compassion and a genuine interest in helping us. The most memorable calls were the ones during which staff not only answered all of our questions, but also offered information we had forgotten to ask. Some did an excellent job of engaging us in conversation and making us feel they cared. FIGURE 1. Forty percent of our web inquiries were not responded to at all. (N= 30) Twelve percent of all practices in our mystery-shopping project did not offer a way to contact them online. F IGURE 2. For the practices that did respond to our web inquiry, 67 percent did so by the end of the day, many of them within a few h ours.

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