Words are subtle, powerful tools. The style in which practice associates communicate with patients in the clinical setting has a tremendous, yet subtle, impact on patient satisfaction. Skillful use of language helps create vital emotional connections with patients, increasing their confidence in the practice and putting them at ease. Staff members have the power to do this by integrating just a few simple words and phrases into their conversations with patients, ultimately boosting patient sales.
Many patients feel anxious when visiting a physician's office, even for routine appointments. Cosmetic patients in particular have high expectations. Patients tend to feel more at ease when they sense that they are in “good hands.” This can occur only if the practice exudes confidence and compassion at every level. This is especially true during difficult economic times. As consumers hold on to their discretionary dollars longer, practices need to foster an emotional connection that prompts patients to buy from them.
Staff can pursue these connections proactively by frequent use of the following words, terms, and phrases:
In fact. Use of the phrase “in fact” sets the stage for impactful communication. For instance, if you simply answer “yes” or “no” to a question, you miss the opportunity to provide any meaningful information to a patient. If, however, your “yes” or “no” is followed by more information preceded by the phrase “In fact,” you are forced to explain your position. For example, the question “Do you do xyz procedure?” can now become an opportunity for a credentialing statement: “Yes. In fact, it is one of Dr. Jones' (or my) favorite procedures” or “No. In fact, we (or I) have researched this product and found that the results were not as good as they are with the product we currently use.”
Personally. “Personally” is a wonderfully powerful word that can provide a great source of relief to patients. When a member of a practice assures patients that he or she will “personally” handle a situation, patients are able to mentally scratch that item from their to-do list. The caveat here is that the situation must be handled. A second opportunity to use this word might come about if a practitioner shares that he or she has “personally” experienced a similar condition or situation to that of a patient. This opens the door for a deeper, more meaningful conversation. It humanizes the physician and lets patients know that someone identifies with them. This builds valuable trust between patients and physicians (or staff).
I understand. This phrase communicates compassion and validates patients' concerns. “I understand” demonstrates that a staff member is actively listening to a patient. It also shows that the patient's point of view is appreciated. Whether the focus of the conversation is a medical concern or a patient complaint, “I understand” helps create an emotional bond and provides the patient with the feeling that the practice member is willing to help. Two examples are: “I understand your concern. Let me see what I can do,” and: “I understand you are nervous. I felt the same way with my first treatment.”
I feel. “I feel” is a term that exudes sincerity. Urge the appropriateness of one regimen over another by commencing your verbiage with the phrase “I feel” (versus “you should,” or “I recommend,”); The consumer identifies the statement as an authentic recommendation. The root of this type of communication is emotional, rather than logical. Examples include: “I feel that this is the best option for you,” or: “I feel that you would benefit from a xyz treatment.” “I feel” is a term that exudes sincerity. Urge the appropriateness of one regimen over another by commencing your verbiage with the phrase “I feel” (versus “you should,” or “I recommend,”); The consumer identifies the statement as an authentic recommendation. The root of this type of communication is emotional, rather than logical. Examples include: “I feel that this is the best option for you,” or: “I feel that you would benefit from a xyz treatment.”
Challenge. “Challenge” is a wonderful word to use as opposed to “problem.” “Problem” has a negative connotation and may result in the patient feeling as if the situation is helpless. “Challenge” produces a more positive image and will leave the patient feeling that he or she is part of a team working together to resolve the issue. For example, “It will be a challenge to fit you into the schedule that day, but let me try,” leaves the consumer feeling that every effort is being made to assist him or her.
Discomfort. “Discomfort” is preferred to the word “pain.” Remember that patients are already nervous about going to the doctor. Any mention of “pain” will heighten anxiety. “Discomfort” is easier on the ears and psychologically less frightening. Here is an example: “There will be mild or moderate discomfort.”
Treatment. Whenever possible, substitute the word “treatment” for such medical words as “procedure” or “injection.” “Treatment” is a more positive way to describe some services. “Procedure” and “injection” can sound frightening, whereas “treatment” sounds calming. There will still be many instances, however, when the word “procedure” is the best choice.
Less expensive. When discussing price with patients, the term “less expensive” is preferred over “cheaper.” “Less expensive” is a reflection of the price only. Using the term “cheaper” may leave the patient feeling that the product or service is lesser quality.
Incorporating the aforementioned words and phrases into discussions with patient provides them the comfort and confidence they need to move forward with purchasing a product or service from the practice.
Vicki Guin is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group, of Allergan, Inc. She has more than 25 years experience of consulting, sales, sales management, and training experience.