It’s easier to fix a scar than fix your reputation

It’s always painful to learn we’ve disappointed someone, be they our patient, co-worker or spouse. We can learn a lot from our unhappy patients if we’ll only listen.

  1. There’s no need to be defensive about complaints. While it may be uncomfortable to deal with difficult situations, there is often a kernel of truth in the patient’s comment.
  2. You can make your practice better by listening. You can’t be present for each patient encounter. Use patient feedback to tweak your practice – where it matters most.
  3. You can grow your practice by responding to patient concerns. Customers who experience successful resolution of their problems are more likely to buy again and to refer.

Unhappy patients are a very small part of our patient experience. Only 3% of our patients ultimately review their experience as less than satisfied, i.e., neither agree nor disagree, dissatisfied, or highly dissatisfied.

In our surveys, 9% of our patients report that they “experienced a problem” but the vast majority of these were resolved internally by the practice prior to the survey. In our first year, only 54 patients requested follow-up for an unresolved problem. That’s out of 8,641 surveys!

RPR’s private alert system enables unhappy patients to communicate internally and privately. They’re not rating you badly or going to Yelp!

Patients who request contact want to work things out. They want you to help them solve a problem and they consider it to be a joint problem. They certainly can’t resolve it on their own.

I read every RPR alert. Often the patient reports a previous response from the practice such as, “That’s a known complication…” which covers things from hematomas to contractures. These brush-offs don’t resolve the matter for the patient. And in these days of ratings and reviews, it doesn’t resolve it for the practice either. I call these kinds of responses, “Doing a Pontius Pilate” and you know where that got us!

I believe that as an industry, we must change how we review revisions and how we stand behind our work. So what can we do?

  • Raise Revenue Per Hour for procedures with known complications allowing for pre-paid physician time to deal with complications.
  • Increase O.R. fees to offset free surgical time that must be provided in the case of revisions
  • Make sure patients buy revision insurance
  • Charge the marketing budget for costs of revisionary surgery
  • And other out-of-the-box ideas?

My husband Merrel had a great perspective on revisions. He’d ask himself, “Will it take me less time to fix it than to talk about it?” Mostly, he answered, “Yes”. Then he either proposed or agreed to do the revision. This thrilled his patients and added to his reputation. By the end of his career, he was operating on the grandchildren of his patients, which says something about patient satisfaction with his approach.

I urge you to take a hard look at your revision policies. When you are quoting a revision policy to a patient, ask yourself, “Is my response going to improve my reputation or put it at risk?” I hope your answer will be mutually satisfying to your patient and to your reputation.

Marie Olesen