7 Secrets to Loyal Patients for Life

LoyalPatiets

Loyal patients are the lifeblood of a medical clinic. And devoted patients are worth their weight in gold. It’s a lot easier to care for an established patient that lots of one-timers who never return. Beyond ease of workflow, the economic benefits are fabulous. A loyal patient panel will stay with you (and pay you) through sickness and in health even if you don’t take their insurance—even if you choose to go cash only. Loyalty is earned. So what should you do? Follow me:

1. Solve problems. Physicians must solve their patients’ chief complaints. Don’t get distracted by one-size-fits-all algorithms and computer prompts. Treat the patient, not the computer, not the insurance company.

2. Return calls. If a patient calls, call them back ASAP. Return emails, labs, and test results the same day. Sooner is better. Patients get anxious when left waiting.

3. Start on time. Respect your patients’ time by staying on schedule. If you run late, apologize. Better yet, offer a $5 gift card for a cup of coffee. When I run late, my patients choose handmade soap from a giant wicker basket. What will you do?

4. Stay put. If you want patients to stop doctor shopping, then doctors should stop job hopping. Jumping from one clinic to another isn’t a winning strategy for a loyal following. Find or create an ideal clinic and stay there.

5. Have fun. Nobody wants to see a doctor who is stressed and depressed. Smile. Laugh. Tell a joke. Lighten up. Host a patient appreciation day every once in a while and hand out balloons and chocolates—just because!

6. Research & refer. If you can’t solve a problem, research and refer to someone who can. Reach beyond allopathic medicine when needed. Refer to acupuncturists, massage therapists, and other health professionals. Replace, “We have nothing left to offer you” with “I’d like you to see my colleague who has had some incredible success treating your condition.” Never abandon your patients to Dr. Google.

7. Do house calls. You’ll basically stand out as the town hero when you treat a patient in their home. Try it weekly—even monthly. I bet you’ll love it!

Patients are routinely held hostage on phone trees and in packed waiting rooms, in paper gowns and cold stirrups. Believe me. It doesn’t take much to wow your patients. In fact, now I even get tips! Yesterday, I  got an $80 tip on a $95 bill. Follow my strategies and you’ll get tips too! And you won’t even have to put out a tip jar 🙂

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a physician entrepreneur and pioneer of the ideal medical care movement. She teaches physicians cutting-edge business strategies at her biannual physician teleseminars & retreats. Join us anytime! Medical students are welcomed.

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21 comments on “7 Secrets to Loyal Patients for Life
  1. Debra says:

    Dr. Pamela, While I am enthusiastic about your genuine friendly intentions, I cannot agree that patients become “loyal” in a system of apology, incentives and gratification. You seem to be spreading a “positive psychology” virus. Patients are not three years old. True loyalty comes from mature relating, not gratification. If I am late, I offer something that a mature adult can understand and then I listen for anything they might let me know indirectly about the impact of the hold up, and if I hear something more, I acknowledge it again and open the door for more feedback from them – adult to adult. If someone can’t handle being an adult with me – and are not responsive to my genuine intention to treat them, maybe they need balloons and soap and I’m not the right fit for them. My patients are mature, capable, responsible individuals with a little bit of gratitude for the hard work we do together – much like myself.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I agree that a mature adult relationship (outside of pediatrics) is the ultimate basis of the core foundational unit in health care. But I have learned from experience that these strategies work. I do these things naturally so they are not canned or disingenuous. Many in health care have forgotten the value of random acts of kindness. Caring for some of my patients has been extended for 30 days with their helium filled smiley-face balloon smiling at them on their bedroom ceiling long after our appointment. Don’t undervalue the meaning of what could look like child’s play. Healing comes in many forms. The most important thing is to be congruent with oneself as a healer and meet patients where they are at. Patch Adams wears a clown nose. Most docs wouldn’t do that. But he has healed many souls with that simple playful approach.

      As an aside I am a very conservative doctor in my approach to medical care. I am by the book and totally OCD. And yes, sometimes I put on a party hat. And if it helps my patients then I am willing to do it.

      • James says:

        I agree with Debra, I personally might feel put off but points three and five but that’s just me and where I’m at right now. I think the gist of Debra’s comment and Pamela’s response is that doctor’s need to be themselves (whether serious or playful at heart) and patients need to find a doctor who’s a good fit personality wise. Aside from an intimate relationship, one’s relationship with their doctor is potentially the next most personal so it’s not like a doctor can be everything to everybody. Not every doctor can pull off “have fun” in the way Pamela does but my impression is that all she is asking of herself and other doctors is that they do, in their own way, something better than the dull, depressed, angry and/or rushed interactions that many doctors have with their patients.

      • One of my adult patients used his paper gown as a cape; too funny to walk in and see him in his undies and a Superman cape! One young child listed off every symptom he had and told me his diagnosis; he was exactly right! The approach should fit the patient. I also know that most educated adults have zero clue what we are trying to explain, but they are too nervous to say so. I’m lighthearted, and patients tell me things no one else knows. It’s a joy and I feel blessed to have their trust.

  2. may intong says:

    wow! These are great tips! I am confident about having Patient-Doctor’s relationship… i believe i can establish rapport.. got training from nursing as pre med course.. but these tips are just so great… Thank you for sharing! Hoping to get more tips from you! 🙂 more power and God bless yo… <3u more

  3. Hi, Pamela:
    Thanks for your blog post. Excellent suggestions. I sometimes wonder why various longtime patients no longer see me. I know it can be for a variety of legitimate reasons like death, moving, insurance changes, and stuff like that. But I suspect there are other reasons that have to do with me or my office. So these are good reminders. Now the other day, in an effort to raise my physician efficacy to a higher level, I printed out a list of reminders to myself to look at before going in to see the next patient. I call it “Doctor, here’s what I want from you today”, and it goes like this:
    Look at me
    Don’t judge me
    Listen to me
    Make me feel significant
    Care about me and connect with me
    Analyze me
    Analyze my labs
    Tell me what I need to do
    Warn me of things I’m not aware of
    Encourage me
    Increase my certainty about my health and safety

    I know its all basic stuff, but sometimes easy to forget when you are trying to stay on time.
    Thanks for all your great work.
    -Bill

  4. James says:

    As a patient I would like to add that it is also nice when doctors are open to information and treatments that a patient brings in. Be it a conventional or an unconventional treatment I think doctors should be open and curious. Too many doctors dismiss anything the patient finds online or from patient groups rather than taking time to educate themselves (on their own time and not during the appointment). The doctor may decide the treatment is too risky or disagree with the patient but if it is done in a respectful way I think the doctor can continue to have the patient for life.

  5. Alisa says:

    Wow, your insight is both exciting and frustrating..
    I wish I could email this to my medical group.
    I saw a female Dr. last week. I was her first appt of the day. I came in at the time the nurse told me 8:00am. I filled out my paperwork and then was ushered in the exam room. About 20 minutes in the nurse tells me that the doctor is always around 30 minutes late. So I sat and waited. At 9:30 she finally comes in. I went in absolved to ask for certain tests and tell her my reason to be there. Mind you I was not presenting as a sick patient.
    She displayed annoyance at me for telling her how I feel. I am in menopause and its no secret to me. 🙂
    I also told her I would like certain blood tests to confirm this.
    I got an appt to have a colonoscopy, and a stern warning that any other natural treatment for menopause was fraudulent in her opinion. I pay 1000.00 per month for insurance for our family.
    It was a defeating appt at best.
    Oh and she said to knock out the carbs I was eating. Hmm.
    I want to go to a Dr. in private practice. But I pay for this insurance and I have to go to their doctors. The one doctor I found in this group that is supposed to be good like you, cannot see any new patients till January 2016!!!!!! What is wrong with this? Wouldn’t the medical group notice that only a few of their doctors are capable of having a caring attitude? You are a rare doctor. I am sure doctors come in contact with difficult patients, but should the doctor assume the role of resistance also? Should all patients be treated like they are a bother? That is when the doctor forgets the reason they were attracted to their professions. The joy in being the best they can be… The art of helping people.
    Keep writing these blog posts….maybe someone will hear you 🙂

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      essentially all doctors went into medicine for the right reasons. They all wanted to care and help people and then look what happens: http://www.idealmedicalcare.org/student_testimonials.php LISTEN AT minute 3:00 and read the third quote by Scott Lowman, a fourth-year medical student.

      Alisa, Your appointment was an experience in being with someone who’s soul has died. She isn’t having any more fun than you are. Please (f you have the time) write her a letter from a place of compassion and let her know that she doesn’t have to suffer. Have you seen the shit these employers pull? –> http://www.idealmedicalcare.org/blog/doctors-not-allowed-to-ask-patients-how-are-you/

      And let her know what the experience of being with her was like for you. Maybe you will be the one who jolts her out of her torment.

  6. Brenda D says:

    Pamela, as usual a wonderful topic, and one close to my heart or skin right now.
    The reply by Dr Bill, shows that there is more than one of you
    I shall look for someone who has those same feelings and attitude.
    For your patients, having that listen first, then decide on judgement , rather than the 23sec diagnosis of its “all in your head”…. “nothing can be done”… “too complex.”.. OR “you need to continue with those pills Im sure very soon they will stop making you faint/be in pain/ have the Ds n Vs, and the rash doesn’t look too bad to me”

    I might pass on Pamela’s soaps, but also would save the smiley face, as I did of the flowers sent to me by a consultant who failed to listen, look, first but judged by the referral letter sent. He did apologise, and that I accepted
    think of the time and money saved by all parties, if those 11 bullet points of Dr Bill’s and a few of Pamela’ were sitting right next to that MD certificate,[ and followed] More than loyal patients, also harmony between all parties

  7. P. K. says:

    Hi Pamela,
    I love the essence of your message: reclaim your spirit, personality, hopes, dreams, allowing yourself to become the healer you always dreamt of being. And not everyone can be genuinely silly without feeling like they are putting on an act. But we all have different faces we wear, I think, it would be wonderful if physicians chose to wear a face of hope, compassion, active listening, positive intent. For me, I think I would love to run my clinic so that it is a safe place where patients and their families feel supported, cared for, inspired and empowered. I would love to give children stickers, colorful pencils, balloons, play-doh, etc. and hey, I think almost every adult whether they admit it or not would love a cool trinket, it could be more mature gifts like a dayplanner, lotions, soaps, shoe polish. Anything that shows hey, I’m sorry I was late but I’m here fully now. And if you can effectively convey that to your patients through words – awesome! If you want to show more in another way, go for it! Stop letting others define how you will show that you care. Love you articles Pamela – keep em coming! 🙂

  8. Diane says:

    I just launched my solo Community Supported Health Care practice in October. Had two patients come in yesterday for minor problems. Were so pleased they wrote $825 checks for full year memberships!! Saw a woman last week who has had a migraine for a year and a half. She walked in the door, sighed, relaxed and expressed gratitude for the quiet and indirect lighting. Pamela’s 7 tips are right on. This is what our patients want, and what we want when we are patients. The people who say this can’t be done are just plain wrong. We are doing it. And we and our patients are loving it.

  9. I am a human, who used to have good doctors… I am in my 50’s.
    I have the same general doc for his life time. I had my gyns for over 30 years and my cardio guy. I out lived all of them. I still have the same dentist I have had for many years, skilled , professional and nice.
    Why – they cared about people, they acted human, they were responsible humans. They loved or at least liked what they were doing. They treated you with respect.

    Today things are different. My New primary care doctor abandoned my care, no not , abruptly stop medication … no continuity of care,after he referred me to a neurologist who mis diagnosed me and mis medicated me leaving with long term damage. They both failed to diagnosis a new and prominent spinal cord injury. No one ever told me… I read the MRI report, so that never got treated. At this point he warned me I would not find another doctor. Over a year later no one will treat me anyway but poorly. One doctor after surgery told me he did what he wanted to me… i felt like i was raped… he was a gyn…
    I am told to suffer and get used to it …. someday it will stop.

    NYS doctors have changed they need to learn to be professional at a minimum.

    I wonder what has changed …. maybe some of these doctors are on the medications with the unpredictable behavioral side effects….. That’s like a big can of worms… of what will be our new norm of acceptable.
    me i suffer with no help.
    i beg for a helping hand

  10. I would love to find a doctor that shares loyalty.
    Things I don’t want with the new normal where I live …

    Pay before services rendered…. you never know what they code.
    (tells me , you don’t trust me… or they are not confident in their skills)
    where else do we do business like this? Pay up front? and I am supposed to trust them?

    Forced to have testing done at their office… no choice… Bloodwork , sonos etc.
    ( I want an uninterested party doing the test) Isn’t this wrong?

    How about forced to have a sono done at their office before you even see the doctor for the very first time…?
    ( you can only have it done there or you don’t see the dr. at all… she sees me and tells me to go somewhere else. I need a gyn- she is one)

    I would appreciate carbon copies of test results .
    ( i know you are busy… i just got myself to look out for)

    I would appreciate when I request COMPLETE records that is what I get.
    ( I would not have to do this 16 times and still not have them all. Dictionaries have the definition of complete.)

    How about after all my tests that cost a million dollars … you don’t just say “every things just fine.”

    ( of all the reports I have looked at … although I am just one of those stupid patients,
    my mri report never said “well the patient looks fine… or the cbc said looking good…really)

    And if you don’t like your job …. don’t blame obama… change the system

    patient will blindly follow you … because there is no choice for them. We see their true loyality

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