Doctor Patient Relations

How Do the Attitudes of Doctor & Staff Impact Patients?

By Diane Palombi, OD

August 10, 2016

Communicating an upbeat attitude to staff is your first step in creating an office patients want to return to.

On the other hand, when you and your staff are in a bad mood, it is likely your patients will leave your office in a bad mood, too.

You have an opportunity to differentiate your practice and build loyalty by expressing a positive, welcoming attitude to patients.

I recently had to go to the DMV to renew some auto tags. The employees there seem to hate their jobs. Maybe when you deal with the general public you can become jaded. Nevertheless, it is not fun to go to a business where you feel that you are a bother to the employee.
I have seen this same situation in doctors’ offices. My husband has even witnessed staff being mean to elderly patients. They would treat them in a condescending manner. He eventually changed doctors because he did not care for the demeanor of the staff.
I made it a point to treat my patients well in my own practice. In my early years I was extremely happy to see them. A patient meant income so I could pay my bills. I was so thrilled that they chose to patron my practice instead of another doctor’s. I wanted them to have a great experience so that they would come back, and better yet, refer me more patients. My staff was instructed to behave the same way. I tried to hire happy, upbeat employees, so I would avoid staff discontent due to personality problems.
Some of this is due to my personality. I am a people-pleaser and want to be liked. To achieve this I had to give the patient an excellent eye exam experience. The goal was for the patient to leave the office happy. In a way, optometrists have a leg up on other doctors. Our patients are not usually feeling poorly when they arrive. Our exams are not painful or embarrassing. We have optical dispensaries with nice frames to try on. Maybe they want to have fun experimenting with tinted contacts this time. Our patients usually don’t mind coming to see us. We need to capitalize on that fact.
We all have bad days on occasion, but I made a point of putting on a great act of being upbeat. Negativity breeds negativity. Your bad mood could put your staff in a bad mood. In turn, you and/or your staff could put your patient in a bad mood. As I mentioned earlier, you can lose a patient from a grumpy office.
Workplace problems should be addressed quickly, so they do not create a staff morale problem. If you show that you care about your staff, the staff in turn cares about you, your patients and your practice. It’s a win-win situation.
On the flip side, you shouldn’t be too familiar with your patients. My first visit to my new primary care doctor reminded me of that. The doctor’s assistant was very pleasant, but kept calling me “Miss Diane.” Mind you, she was probably around my daughter’s age. I found it annoying even though I am certain that she was just trying to put me at ease.

At my office we addressed our adult patients initially by the salutation that they chose on the patient record and their last name. If they wanted to be called by their first name it was their choice. In addition, some small talk is nice. It can create a common bond with your patient. You will also seem more approachable. However, your patient usually does not want to hear your life story, so keep it appropriate. Some patients like to talk more than others, so take your cues from them. You can tell if they are engaged in the conversation or just wish that you would be quiet and do your job so they can get on with their lives.
People liked to feel welcomed at an establishment. They do not want to feel like they are a bother. You must do your best to create a practice atmosphere that achieves these goals for your patients.

How do you and your staff create the kind of atmosphere and experience that patients want to return to? What are the greatest challenges in keeping the mood of your office upbeat?

Diane Palombi, OD, now retired,owned Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: dlpod1@hotmail.com

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