Doctor Patient Relations

Training: Scripts to Improve Staff-Patient Communications

By Jennifer Jabaley, OD

June 21, 2017

How well you communicate with patients can mean the difference between a long-term, loyal patient, who consistently purchases eyewear from you, and a patient who walks out empty-handed after just one visit. It is essential for doctors, and support staff, to understand how best to communicate with everyone who comes into your office.

I have ideal scripts in mind, which I share with staff, to help facilitate strong communication. Like most offices, we have a script for answering the phone. It’s quick, cheery and effective.

The scripts are printed in the training manual that we give to each employee. In their first few weeks of training, the manual is kept close by for easy reference. This prompted me to think that perhaps implementing scripts in other aspects of communication might be an effective way to train our new hires, as well as those already on staff.

We recently hired two new staff members. One of the new hires had never worked in any type of medical office before. We hired her based on her fantastic personality, but it has required a training program from the ground-up. Given her lack of experience with patient interaction, the first order of business was to train her in how to effectively communicate with our patients on the phone, and in person at the front desk.

Words are incredibly powerful. According to psychologists Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newbery, MD, authors of “Words Can Change Your Brain,” words are so powerful that “even the sight of a negative word like ‘no’ can release dozens of stress-producing hormones in a person’s brain.” On the flip side, other words can create happy and positive feedback. Using the correct customer service phrases can enhance patient engagement. So, why not have your office commit to some simple positive scripting? Keep in mind, the aim is for everyone in the staff to be optimistic and favorable in general, so scripting and phrasing should sound organic and authentic.

Phrases of Welcome
Starting every customer interaction with a welcoming phrase helps create an initial positive relationship. By speaking politely, respectfully and joyfully, you foster an open dialogue with your patients. This early interaction helps build a rapport that shows you are interested in helping them.

“It’s great to see you again.”

“What can I help you with today?”

“Welcome to our office.”

Using these phrases to greet a patient welcomes them with a sense of warmth and friendliness, helping break the ice, form a positive impression of your office, and creates an atmosphere of comfort.

Phrases of Courtesy
People appreciate being treated respectfully. Utilizing words and phrases of courtesy throughout your conversations shows your patients you respect them. Phrases of courtesy promote a positive first impression, and help continue to build a positive relationship with your patients. When you and your staff form the habit of using these phrases, they’ll become a natural part of the vocabulary you consistently use.

“Thanks for waiting.”

“I’m happy to help.”

“Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”

Genuine appreciation and courteousness leave patients feeling good, creating good will, which leads to repeat visits and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Phrases of Repetition
When you repeat a patient’s comments, or complaints, you do two important things. First, you make them feel heard. Second, you clarify what they said so that there’s no misunderstanding. Don’t repeat verbatim what the patient says. Rather, try to summarize the meaning behind their words.

Patient: “I’m upset because I haven’t received my new glasses yet.”

Staff: “I’m sorry it’s taken longer than you anticipated to get your new glasses. Just to clarify, when were you expecting them?”

Great customer service is defined by genuine empathy. Repeating back to the patient their concerns lets them know that not only have you heard them, but that you will address the situation to the best of your ability.

Phrases of Responsibility
Not knowing the answer to a question is a difficult scenario for anyone to be in. When confronted with a difficult question, or situation, it will increase credibility if you admit you don’t know the answer, but are willing to find out. Honesty will enhance credibility and create a positive, lasting impression.

When in a tricky situation, try using some of the following scripts:

“I don’t know, but I will certainly find out.”

“I will take responsibility.”

“I will keep you updated.”

These positive phrases ensure the patient that you know what she expects, and that you will deliver a satisfactory outcome.

Phrases that Say No in a Positive Way
Sometimes a patient asks for something you can’t give them – a refill on medication without an exam, a supply of contacts when the prescription is expired. Here are some phrases to convey “no” with a positive tone:

“I’d love to help but…”

“Unfortunately, that’s not our policy.”

“I can’t do that, however, I can offer you this.”

Using words like “unfortunately” and “however” can lead the conversation in a more positive direction.

Creating positive phrases and scripts is about creating an attitude and atmosphere. Use power words and positive phrases to convey a feeling of confidence, cheerfulness and support for your patients.


How do you ensure effective communication with patients? How do you train all doctors and support staff in your practice in how you want them to communicate with patients?

 


Jennifer Jabaley, OD
, is a partner with Jabaley Eye Care in Blue Ridge, Ga. To contact her: jabaleyjennifer@yahoo.com

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