The Patient Preference No One Talks About
by Susan Keane Baker
A key driver of patient loyalty is:
People value experiences in which their unique preferences are identified and respected.
What about a preference for a different physician, nurse, physical therapist, home care aide? Is everyone on your team knowledgeable about your philosophy and processes regarding switching to a different person?
A gastroenterologist told me that patients are assigned to a physician for the first visit and no switches are ever possible. I asked what she would do if her hair salon prohibited her from switching to a different stylist. “I’d go someplace else.” She could see the connection between her experience at the salon and her patients’ experiences at the practice, but she couldn’t change the policy.
She wanted to know how to make the policy sound like a benefit. The “which means that” technique is a simple way to take a feature and formulate a benefit. “Patients are assigned to a physician at the time of their first visit and no switching is allowed, which means that we will never ask you to switch to another physician.”
If your policies are more flexible, do you let patients know they can switch easily, and without guilt? Senior Help Services in Denton Texas asks and answers the switching question in the Frequently-Asked Questions section of their website:
A client, whose hair always looks fabulous, recommended I try the Phillip Bruce Salon in Westport, Connecticut. (Thank you Anne!) As Bruce was doing my hair, we chatted about how they handle the sometimes emotion-laden request to try another stylist.
“As a team, we talk about this all the time. The bottom line? It’s about what the client wants, not what we want. Direct requests and indirect hints are most likely expressed at the front desk. Our receptionists know to listen for this and are prepared to say: ‘Most clients like to try someone different once in awhile- it happens all the time.’ If the client expresses anxiety about hurting the stylist’s feelings, the staff member suggests scheduling the next visit on the stylist’s regular day off.
So, can your patients switch to another practitioner? If they can’t, have you scripted the reason(s) why and how your policy could benefit your patient? If there is a law in your state or country that prohibits certain requests for changes, let patients know upfront!
If patients can switch, is everyone on your team familiar with your policy and comfortable in responding to requests? And are patients reminded that a request to change will be cheerfully honored?