Insights from the Outside: Use Your Practice Environment to Engage, Educate, Empower and Enable Patients/Clients

Insights from the Outside is a diverse group of practicing clinicians and practice owners from many medical specialties including dentistry, veterinary medicine, cosmetic surgery, ophthalmology, audiology and optometry. This group was uniquely created by CareCredit for the purpose of capturing and sharing “best practices” to some of the common challenges all healthcare business owners face such as attracting new patients, the patient experience, patient retention, social media, team training and empowerment.

In this article, Dr. Kathy Wentworth, owner of PetPoint Medical Center and Resort, Nola Aronson, M.A., CCCC-A, owner of Advanced Audiology and Dr. Howard Ong, owner of Seal Beach Dentistry, discuss best practices when it comes to creating an environment that engages, educates, empowers and enables patients to get the care they need and want.

Dr. Wentworth The practice environment is a big part of people’s perception of who you are, what you do, how well you do it and what they can expect while in your office. It’s a reflection of your personality and brand, but it is created from the perspective of clients – what they want and need to trust you to take care of their family, which in our case is their pet. In veterinary medicine, illness and injuries to pets are often unexpected and can be extremely emotional and stressful for the owners. So, we know we will be able to accomplish better examinations, diagnostics and treatment if the client and patient (pet) are at ease. We practice the Fear-Free philosophy - which encourages a more calming atmosphere, even if there is a stressful medical concern. If clients are more relaxed, they can better understand what our goals are for treatment of their pets, and they will be more inclined to trust our recommendations. First impressions count because a good experience with the first visit will make clients more likely to follow through with recommendations, come back for another reason, and tell their friends about your practice.

Ms. Aronson I agree. If you don’t make a good first impression, the person is less likely to be open and communicative with you and your team. If communication is not free-flowing, then chances are, you’re not going to be able to help that patient because they won’t share their goals, wants, needs and desires. Our philosophy is give more than expected. Exchange in abundance. We pride ourselves in treating our patients as family. From the moment they walk in our door, we have designed an environment that is so warm and welcoming, patients feel like they are walking into a friend’s living room. As our guests, we offer coffee and treats and make them feel at home. Our goal is to give patients a sense of relaxation and trust. Often, the person with the hearing loss is not as excited to own their problem – or find a solution – as their significant other or spouse is. So, creating a warm, welcoming, relaxing first impression is important.

Dr.Ong First impressions definitely matter in healthcare because it allows patients to give practitioners permission to explore their concerns, needs, treatment, etc. Permission is vital as we are exploring treatment with patients instead of telling patients what they should do. In our practice, the environment is defined by our culture and it is the most important part of our business. It is the starting point of patient experience, treatment acceptance, trust, etc. In fact, our culture is our brand. Our practice environment is our brand.

So we created the environment in our practice to focus on establishing and sustaining relationships by welcoming patients as if they were guests in our home. As guests, we are fortunate they have accepted our invitation, and while they are in our office its not about us - it’s about them. Our practice environment promotes a stewardship mentality. This service mindset lowers the wall of trust and opens the door to high case acceptance. It takes collaboration of all team members.

Ms. Aronson It’s definitely a team effort. My brand is represented by a heart - because it’s all about caring. Through every facet of our environment and patient experience, we want patients to know we love to help them hear. We know it’s a quality of life issue and if we can help patients hear, they will live more connected, vibrant lives. So my team is trained to listen, not just hear. We want the patient to share with us not just that they want to hear better, but the “why” they want to hear better. This is the real reason they are at our practice. Then it’s our job to give solutions based on our understandings. So, when we designed our practice and our patient’s experience, we started from the heart – to meet our patient’s physical, emotional and hearing health needs.

Dr. Wentworth We also purposefully designed the interior to meet the needs of clients and their pets. We started out in the parking lot and worked our way in. Every aspect was designed to communicate to clients that we care and want to make their experience fear free. As you drive into the parking lot, we have a sign that immediately lets clients know they are entering a place of care.

As we deal with many different sizes and species of animals, we have implemented different examination rooms to accommodate them. For example, we have cat-only examination room with feline pheromones, a cat tree and a cubby to hide in. We have a large dog room (big enough for three Great Danes and a family!) and a solar-lighted resort center for pocket pets (like bunnies and guinea pigs). We have a nutrition center and a resort and salon for wellness needs. We purposefully appeal to all senses to help create an overall impression of peace and calm. We have calming Zen colors, fresh flowers, large windows and no clutter present. We play light music and have a soothing waterwall. We keep our hospital clean (huge effort in an animal practice) so it smells nice and all of our furniture is comfortable and inviting, with plenty of space to avoid feeling crowded. We have an espresso bar, and a refrigerator full of juices and flavored water. People feel special and can relax while we take care of their pets.

Dr.Ong For us, our brand is about human connections and relationships. In our practice, we display pictures of our events, from attendance at continuing education courses, community and family events or celebrations, to our famous Christmas parties. It shows we are just as authentic as our patients. We are a healthcare family treating your family. We, too, believe a big part of our “practice environment” is our team. And so we work hard and train hard to be advocates of their care. We encourage our team to ask questions to engage patients and explore their treatment options. Over a well-appointed office decor or soothing music or sounds, just visiting and being human with our patients fulfills their essential needs and, believe it or not, exceeds most patients’ expectations.

Education is also one of the core values of our brand. Our practice learns together, meaning if we want to better educate patients or implement services in our practice, most if not all principals attend education courses. The practice educates by making the whole team accountable about treatment we offer. Our reception area is peaceful, with subtle messaging of services offered and literature of partners like CareCredit. It is a quiet time before treatment so we offer fresh water and coffee and WiFi.

Ms. Aronson We also strongly believe an educated patient can make the best decisions. So, we have educational videos in the reception area instead of using it as a television. Our job is not to entertain patients, but to educate and empower them. We also have CareCredit materials in our reception area, because after patients are educated and empowered, we want to enable them to get the hearing care they want.

Dr. Wentworth This is definitely a best practice for most healthcare offices. In our reception area we have specifically implemented digital media to educate our clients about services and our practice. In our examination rooms we have a large digital whiteboard with interactive games, informative pictures and brochures, and medical illustrations. And, we also want to enable patients. So like the others, we educate clients on the availability of CareCredit as a financing option. As a Fear-Free practice, we don’t want the cost of our services to be another cause for concern or worry for our clients. The bottom line is to create a place that makes people want to come back, and tell all of their friends about their positive experience.

Ms. Aronson I couldn’t agree more. Every detail counts because what one patient finds exceptional may not be what matters to the next. So take time to objectively look at your practice and make sure it’s the place you’d want your family to go for care, a team you’d want to help you and an environment that looks, smells, sounds, feels and even tastes welcoming and warm.

Dr.Ong And honestly, when it comes to the environment, it’s nice to have all the little extras that we’ve talked about, but the lasting impression is often made by the team. So make sure your team has embraced your practice culture, are empowered to be a physical representation of your brand and are advocates for your patients’ health.    

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