Most of us think we are better than we really are. Sad but true. It shows up all across society, and psychologists even have a term for it: illusory superiority, aka the above-average effect. OK, so we are a bit biased when it comes to ourselves. I’m sure I suffer from it just like everybody else.
But when it comes to running a practice, this bias can lead to having blinders in terms of opportunities to improve. The archetype in medicine is the doctor who believes his surgical outcomes or clinical skills are best in class and uses this rationale to justify running late to see patients or, even worse, excuses him or her from needing to exhibit positive bedside manner. I wish I could say this doesn’t happen anymore, but it does. Just go read reviews online about your competitors in town and you will see what I mean.
The door has been closed to that room labeled “clinical expertise is all that matters.” For your patients, it is often assumed, much in the same way the skill of the pilot is assumed each time you board an airplane. Although most patients say they want to see the best doctor, clinical skill is not nearly as powerful a differentiator as doctors want to believe, mainly because the typical patient lacks the expertise to judge clinical abilities. Instead, they look at factors they understand, such as the cleanliness of the office, the kindness/rudeness of the staff and doctors, and how long they had to wait to be seen. These are easily understood and comparable to other consumer experiences.
My hypothesis has long been that doctors who focus on this “soft stuff” end up winning big. But admitting there’s room to improve can be difficult, even for CEOs of major corporations. In one survey of 300 CEOs, 80% of them believe their customer service to be excellent. In a similar survey of customers of those same companies, only 8% similarly rated the service as excellent.
While this large disconnect is sobering, it offers an incredible opportunity to begin looking at your practice through the eyes of your customer. Doing this sincerely and objectively will yield a treasure trove of ideas that can be implemented. Many are at low/no cost, simply requiring a change in an element of how you (and your staff) do what you do. One example: Instead of having your technician or nurse yell a patient’s name to identify who is next to be taken back, have your receptionist capture what the patient is wearing (the marvelous sticky note is a great technology for this) and affix to the chart or digital record. The technician now has the ability to walk up to that patient individually, introduce themselves and escort them back. A little gesture that makes a big difference in the patient experience.
Act like a CEO and take responsibility for the way your patients experience your practice. Just don’t act like the CEO who has an inflated view of how well things are going.
Disclosure: As president of SM2 Strategic, Mahdavi can be reached via his firm’s website www.sm2strategic.com or office 925-425-9900.
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