From the Call Center: what we’ve learned from patient follow-ups

August 14, 2018

Years of speaking with patients who are seeking second opinions and following up with them after their appointments, have highlighted important differences in what doctors and patients perceive about their visit. What each patient chooses to focus on during those conversations provides important clues to predicting future patient behavior. Those clues, in turn, provide key insights that help us positively impact the health of our partner doctors’ practices.

When we start a relationship with a new doctor, some of our first questions center around the patient experience. We want to be able to warm patients up to the idea of a new doctor or treatment, and let them know what they can expect. Our doctors are rightfully proud of their efficient office staff, qualified nurses, and highly skilled medical team. They emphasize the strength of their diagnostic capabilities and the fact that they are skilled in newer procedures that offer their patients important new options. These are all incredibly important, and on the surface these goals seem aligned – we hear from patients, too, who want cutting edge diagnostics and new alternatives to problems they’ve often been struggling with for years.

If patients want what our doctors are offering, why do they fail to keep their appointments?

Often, it is because of skepticism. They have usually been living with their condition for many years, and have been told multiple times that they are doing everything they can. Our partner doctors typically think that their new technology should speak for itself, but our patients have heard that before. The key is to really personalize our conversations. We need to understand how the patient’s condition is affecting them specifically – not just how it usually affects patients – and then how the new treatment or diagnostic procedure will help with personal pain points. That conversation feels different than what they have experienced with other providers, so they start to listen and engage. But we cannot stop there; we need to listen and explain why our new approach is likely to help in their specific situation, when other things have not helped. We also need to to explain why they have not heard of it. A general discussion of the merits of a new technology are not usually enough to bring a patient to their appointment.

Sometimes, it is also because of a disappointing patient experience. Negative follow-up calls almost always center around the patient experience. Rarely does a patient tell us that the treatment was not helpful. That is good news and bad news. It means that our patients really do want the treatments our doctors are providing. It also means, however, that an efficient office staff can be perceived as cold instead of competent. For the practice’s existing patients, this is rarely the case, but for highly skeptical, chronically ill patients looking for a third, fourth or fifth opinion, it can be a deal breaker. Our offices with the highest patient satisfaction – and therefore the best show rates – reach out to check insurance, welcome the patients warmly when they arrive and frequently check in if there are long waiting room delays. A skilled staff can will tell the truth – long wait times are often the result of personalized doctor attention and they’ll be able to look forward to that same level of attention when it is their turn.

What have we learned?

Patient acquisition for new, highly specialized procedures requires expertly crafted, personalized conversations. Skepticism and hopelessness are significant barriers to both scheduling and show rates. We can help by providing highly trained nurses who use personalized discussions to give patients hope that there is a solution for them, and by providing our partner doctors with invaluable feedback about what their patients are looking for and how they are experiencing their care.