Do unto others what you would want done to you

Written by Dr. Tejal Lathia

The word “Patient Experience” was first introduced to me by my friend Reshma Mallya. Though a dentist by training, she is a Customer Experience specialist- the first one I ever met or even heard of ;).

What does this word “Patient Experience” mean? What it means to me is how people would like to feel when they consult me. What I imagine they would like to feel is happy, supported, motivated. Leave the clinic having had a meaningful conversation with me, go back home with a plan to manage their health, ready to be back in a few months with better health. Unfortunately, what a person experiences when consulting a particular doctor extends far beyond the direct interaction of the patient with the doctor. And Patient experience directly impacts patient

The process of finding the doctor, booking an appointment, the location and accessibility of the clinic, interaction with staff, waiting times, ease of payment, time spent with the doctor, legibility of the prescription, beyond clinic support for minor queries and contact with the doctor – all of these impact patient experience. At this time, some of you reading this may be thinking – why is all of this my headache as a doctor? My job is to diagnose the condition, ask for tests and write a prescription and that’s it! This is why – there are many excellent doctors who are great at what they do but often patients refuse to go back to them – poor behavior of staff, difficult process of scheduling an appointment, long wait times, uncomfortable waiting area, unclean toilet (Yes, something seemingly so trivial) – these are some of the reasons which have nothing to do with the doctor and everything to do with their experience of seeing the doctor. So, the simplest answer to the question “Why is this my headache”? – if your parent, spouse, relative,
friend needs to see a doctor – what would you like their experience to be?

When I was discussing my plans for opening my own clinic, it is Reshma who made me realise that I had to keep the patient and the kind of experience they want when they visit a doctor at the center of my plans. So, my first criteria for a clinic was somewhere close to my house so that I do not have a long commute. I wanted to arrive at the clinic on time, peacefully, not tired and irritated after an adrenaline charged drive. Often the energy with which we enter the clinic sets the tone of the day. I planned the clinic in an area which is near main roads but not on the main road – less crowd but easily accessible. I wanted sufficient parking nearby to avoid the well-known frustration of finding a parking space. There is a complex near my house which is very popular and has scores of doctors in the building. But it is in a crowded market area and parking is a nightmare, not the greatest of experiences! Once the person enters my clinic, we play subdued music, make sure the clinic smells nice and fresh. The staff speak quietly and politely. We request people to keep their phones on silent and have phone conversations outside. People who come to see us are sometimes severely distressed and we want them to relax, have a moment to themselves undisturbed. Ensuring a smooth workflow is something we work hard at. To avoid long wait times and overcrowding, we see patients only by appointment. Patients receive text messages confirming their appointment, we provide a WhatsApp number for all appointment related queries. We request people to send all reports and prescriptions a day before which are entered into the clinic software. Valuable consulting time is not wasted searching through thick files for latest blood tests or figuring out which meds the person is currently taking. The time saved is invested in speaking to the person in greater detail, answering
questions in depth.

Also, I do not answer any phone calls in the middle of a consultation asking staff to handle the phone. I attend calls only between consults. It is important to respect people’s time and maintain the continuity of the consult. Often after consultations, people have questions about medications. Sometimes they forget to ask a question and remember only at home. Many people on insulin therapy need supervision to adjust insulin doses between clinic visits for better results. We provide a whats app number with a dedicated person assigned to answer queries whom I supervise. It is far better for people to send a simple text rather than come and waste not only their own time but mine as well by visiting the clinic for minor issues.

Last but definitely not the least, I hire adequate staff. I encourage a friendly working atmosphere where everyone is trained to do each other’s job. The absence of one staff member does not spiral into chaos. I train them repeatedly on how to answer calls, how to handle irate patients, how to make sure the clinic runs like a well-oiled machine – quietly and efficiently.

Patient Experience is a word that must figure in every doctor’s dictionary!

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