A patient's overall experience with a practice influences his or her decision to move forward with a surgery or procedure. Because of this, it is important for practices to create bonding opportunities that establish strong relationships and result in a positive experience.

The two key practice players in relationship building are the provider and the patient care coordinator. Developing systems and processes that support these individuals in their pursuit of meaningful relationships with patients can help improve the overall patient experience and ultimately increase conversion rates.

Creating exceptional consultation experiences that inspire patients does not happen without careful and deliberate planning. Practices with high conversion rates enjoy their success because every action taken during the process is dedicated to building strong relationships with patients. It is these connections that motivate patients to move forward in the conversion process. To consistently achieve high conversion rates, practices should consider the tips outlined in this article.

Tips for Success

Have a dedicated patient coordinator. Practices should have a dedicated and qualified individual who handles all new patient inquiries. The goal is to have this person become the practice's patient liaison. In this role, the liaison bonds with patients by understanding their needs and concerns and educating them prior to the consultation.

Send an information packet. Prior to a consultation, the patient coordinator should send a patient packet by mail or email. The packet should include a letter that welcomes the patient to the practice and explains the contents. The packet should also include a biography and photo of the provider, the patient intake paperwork, information about the procedure of interest, and a menu of services.

Make a confirmation call.The patient coordinator should make a confirmation call two days prior to the consultation appointment. The confirmation call should be seen as a marketing opportunity. The idea is to create excitement about the appointment and answer any last-minute questions the patient may have.

Meet with the patient. Have the patient coordinator meet with the patient prior to being seen by the physician to confirm the patient's interests and identify any additional interests or concerns. Utilizing a cosmetic interest questionnaire can assist the staff in identifying other areas of interest. The staff should also inform the patient about visit expectations to help put him/her at ease.

Inform the physician. Prior to the physician entering the room to perform the evaluation, have the patient coordinator meet with the physician to share all pertinent patient information identified during prior interactions. This briefing saves valuable physician time and allows him/her to become aware of the patient's needs, concerns, and goals. Patients will experience a sense of comfort when they realize the physician has been briefed on these topics. It also provides a launching platform from which additional relationship building can occur.

Engage the patient in brief social conversation. Physicians are encouraged to engage in brief social conversation prior to evaluating the patient for treatment or procedure candidacy. This interaction helps alleviate the anxiety some patients experience when visiting a medical practice.

Explain all treatment options. After examining the patient and determining candidacy for a treatment or procedure, physicians are encouraged to explain the options to the patient. This includes discussing risks, benefits, and alternatives. Physicians should take time to credential themselves relative to their expertise and experience in relation to performing the procedure. This helps alleviate anxiety and enhances patient confidence.

Create a personal treatment plan (PTP). If the practice has multiple providers delivering a variety of services, a personal treatment plan (PTP) is an effective way of communicating the recommended and rendered services to the patient. A PTP can also be used to convey the preferred timeframe during which these treatment(s) should be completed, as well as outline any specific post-visit instructions.

Review the details. Following the consultation—but prior to offering fee quotes and discussing remittance options—the patient coordinator should meet with the patient to confirm the quality of the consultation. This methodical and thoughtful discussion helps reassure patients that their needs are of primary concern and can cue the patient coordinator when additional credentialing, education, or treatment discussion is warranted. It also puts the patient coordinator in position to review the fee quote in a manner that will minimize any confusion or misinterpretation.

Explain fees and payment options. At this point, patients are usually eager to learn the cost of the desired treatment or procedure. The patient coordinator should have the fee quote prepared and computer-generated for the patient. A breakdown of all of the fees should be provided. Some patients may be too embarrassed to ask about payment plans, so be prepared to offer information about all methods of payment, including financing, that the practice offers. This makes patients feel more financially comfortable and helps practices increase the number of patients who can afford services.

Discuss the treatment or surgery schedule. Rather than transfer the patient to another staff member, the patient coordinator should conclude the consultation process with a discussion of the treatment or surgery schedule. This provides a high level of continuity and consistency that increases the patient's comfort level in making a decision to move forward with a surgery or treatment. It also encourages ongoing rapport and interaction with the practice.

Address patient fears with firsthand information. Offering patients the opportunity to speak with another patient who has experienced the desired procedure is an effective method of addressing the fears of prospective patients. Many practices keep a list of satisfied patients who have agreed to such conversations. Firsthand information can credential the practice and provider and positively contribute to the patient resulting in a more expedient decision to move forward.

Follow up with patients. The patient care coordinator should send a post-consultation survey to patients to assess the quality of their experience with the practice. This provides practices with valuable insight as to why patients do or do not select them as their preferred provider. It is important to have established protocols to follow up with patients who do not book at the time of their consultations. Additionally, a thank you note should be sent to all consultation patients.

Identify and communicate next step. For patients who do not schedule at the time of consultation, a next step should be communicated. Typically, the reason for not moving forward is the reason for follow up. For example, if a patient feels the need to speak with his/her spouse prior to making a decision, that would be the reason for follow up. “I understand that you need to speak to your spouse. If I called you on Monday would that give you enough time to have that conversation?”

Shorten the conversion timeline. Many practices have found that they can shorten the length of time it takes from consultation to scheduling a procedure by encouraging patients to bring their spouse or significant other with them to the consultation. Having the spouse/significant other present at the consultation ensures that all potential questions are answered at that time.

Track your conversion rates. It is important to track the conversion rate of consultation to scheduled surgery on a regular basis in order to accurately measure your effectiveness in converting consultations. A mature conversion rate is considered to be three months post consultation, so it is advisable to set a percentage goal and measure it quarterly. The main objective is to regularly evaluate your metrics to identify areas for improvements relative to the patient experience.

Move Forward

The tips presented here are designed to improve the patient consultation process in your practice. If heeded, the overall quality of patient communication is elevated as key players are provided with opportunities to build rapport and form meaningful connections with patients. As a result, patients gain a liaison in the practice and experience the confidence needed to move forward with a surgery or procedure.

Launa Hankins and Vicki Guin are management consultants with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group of Allergan, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company based in Irvine, California.

Ms. Hankins consults with dermatology and plastic surgery practices in the areas of financial analysis, practice valuations, human resource issues, internal and external marketing, leadership training and team building, sales training, compensation, and cosmetic practice development. She has more than 16 years of consulting, sales, and training experience in the cosmetic surgery industry.

Ms. Guin consults with dermatology and plastic surgery practices in the areas of financial analysis, practice valuations, human resource issues, internal and external marketing, leadership training and team building, sales training, compensation, and cosmetic practice development. She has more than 25 years of consulting, sales, sales management, and training experience.