By Larry Golson, OD
A well-thought-out office environment makes patients feel comfortable and cared about—and it also can foster long-term practice loyalty.
When you walk into a good friend’s home, a friend you’ve always felt a connection with, you get a certain feeling. When I opened my practice five years ago, that’s the feeling I tried to capture. I wanted patients to feel like they would in a friend’s home. I wanted the environment to be professional and instill a sense of confidence, but I didn’t want it to be cold or intimidating. Here are the ways I create an office environment that welcomes patients, and by treating them like a valued friend, encourages them to build long-term loyalty to my practice.
Find Your Office Environment Role Model
One morning as I got a cup of coffee at Starbucks, I had a realization: this is close to the exact mood I have in mind for my practice. I liked the way the environment at Starbucks appeals to all of your senses. There’s the smell and taste of the coffee, the aesthetic of interior design (sight), good, consistent customer service (feel), comfortable seating (touch) and the music playing is what most would consider upbeat and pleasant (hearing). I also liked that as comfortable and pleasant as it is, there also is a sense of openness–few would be too intimidated to open the door. In addition, I thought the Starbucks model would serve as a good guide since has a great company culture with a commitment to being a part of the local community.
Right Environment Comes at a Price
Having an ideal office environment came with some work and financial investment. For eight years prior to our arrival, the space was inhabited by a veterinary clinic. The floor was peeling and the space was sectioned off into many different small rooms with no wide open space like we currently have. Our landlord was eager for us to improve the space, so he chipped in $20,000 to help us remodel it.
Think: Professional Living Room
When you walk into the office, you find an open space with chairs arranged as they would be in a living room; grouped together and facing each other to facilitate interaction. I wanted to avoid the old fashioned doctor’s office first impression of chairs lined up against one wall beside a registration window that opens and closes. There is a flat-screen television with Eyemagination videos playing and to the left of the seating area is the optical dispensary and to the right, a marble-countered registration desk with drop-down lighting.
Most of your friends probably have technological devices lying around their living room–some of which, like their computer or iPad, they might offer up for you to use. We do the same at our office. We have an iPad that has a screen saver that says: “Hi, please pick me up and look us up on Facebook and Twitter.” We also provide free wireless internet for our patients.
Patients sometimes tell us they just want to come over and hang out and have a cup of coffee even when they don’t need an exam. And that happens sometimes. It is not unusual for a patient to be in the neighborhood and pop in just to say hello.
When you walk into a friend’s home, you usually wouldn’t just wander in and be ignored for the first minute. My thought about our office environment is no different. Just as a good host greets guests as soon as they arrive, our team members immediately greet patients before the front door closes behind them. My team has been trained to immediately say hello, ask how the patient prefers to be addressed while in the office (Mr./Mrs., full first name or a nickname), and offer a glass of water or a cup of coffee or tea.
The initial greeting is essential to perfect and make consistent. This primary interaction sets the tone for the entire patient experience, and can strengthen or weaken the developing relationship.
Delight Your Patient’s Ears, Too
Your patients are here to see you about their eyes, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect what your office sounds like. We wanted our patients to hear something more than exchanges between our team and other patients. We wanted them to feel relaxed and enjoy their experience. I came up with an iPod play list of different mixes of music for each day of the week. There is no specific tone for each day of the week, but creating mixes for each day ensures the music won’t become irritatingly repetitive. The music I chose for the office is low-key, cheerful jazz with no words. We wanted it to be pleasant and relaxing but not as dull as elevator music.
Let Patients Know Something About You
Along with comfort and visual appeal, the decor of your office should speak to who you as practice owner are. In my case, that means featuring my landscape photography professionally framed throughout the office. It also means dressing our space up with the bonsai plants that my father cultivates. These two elements serve as conversation starters with patients. It is not uncommon for a patient to ask about the photos and where they were taken. That often leads to a conversation about their own hobbies, which is perfect for any OD seeking to practice lifestyle dispensing. Sharing a little of who you are encourages patients to share a little of who they are, and sometimes what you learn can help you better serve them. At the very least, the conversation creates a connection between doctor and patient.
Related ROB Articles and Multimedia