Enhancing the patient journey

By Deborah Vine / 01 Jul 2015

Clinic operations director Deborah Vine outlines how her team works to provide the best experience for patients on their treatment journey

The regulation of cosmetic surgery and associated treatments has been under the spotlight for a good few years. Press coverage has sparked conversation at all levels, especially online via social media and forums, and, in turn, this has heightened awareness surrounding aesthetic treatments. The demand for clearer information is now huge, and this demand has been answered by an increase in information on television, online and through media coverage. Perhaps due to this scrutiny, patients are now more informed, and ask more questions. However, despite this growing confidence, we must not lose sight of their primary reason for visiting us – often this is because something about their body is causing them concern, embarrassment, frustration, or worse. Making that first enquiry will have taken courage and will not have been taken lightly. Throughout this entire experience, each patient may feel completely outside of the realms of comfort, and we must consider this at every point of their journey and craft our responses to their queries carefully. 

The Journey

There are numerous feelings and considerations which affect the decision process in our potential patient’s mind. Our role is to carefully de-construct this, identifying and stripping back any potential barriers, whilst always ensuring that the patient’s best interests remain at the centre of everything we do. Our objective is to make each experience along the way as simple as possible, allowing the patient to focus on getting all of the information that he or she needs in order to help them make an informed decision about treatment with a clear mind. The patient journey begins with the patient identifying their concern and taking the decision to act. This must be where our journey also begins. As a team, we must make things as easy as possible for them and should consider some key questions. Where might they hear about us? How might they find us? How are we represented and, more importantly, how much can they learn about us? Are we encouraging them enough to take a further step? 

Going Digital

Today, clinics must ensure that they convey a clear, consistent and informative message across all mediums. Attention to detail in all areas has become vital as businesses have several ‘windows to the world’, and each should reflect the consistent service level that the patient can expect throughout their experience. Digitally, video and blogging have become very useful ways to prepare the patient for what they can expect. One very popular project we commissioned at Karidis Cosmetic Surgery London was a video of our customer journey. We wanted people to feel comfortable with where they would be coming to take away any uncertainty. During the video, they pass through the doors of our clinic, where our reception desk is situated, then see other patients sitting in our waiting area, followed by clips of a consultation. Later in the video, the viewer will see what the hospital room would look like on the morning of a surgical procedure, with a patient in a gown and robe discussing their procedure pre-operatively. We believe all of this will help to break down barriers and make the patient feel at home, and the beauty is that they can experience this in their own home where they are already at ease. Although the video is an effective visual aid, some patients would rather read hard facts. In this case, we found that some information was easier to document in a written format, so to reflect this, we created a surgical and non-surgical patient journey guide which is featured on our website. It gives a step-by-step guide of how to get to us, where to park, and what to consider, in order to resolve any uncertainty.

Interaction

Each time there is interaction with a patient, be it digitally, via email, telephone, letter or personally, it triggers a touch point. Each one should be considered carefully, ensuring that clarity, simplicity, information and business identity have been considered and well represented at all times. In giving patients consistency we nurture their trust, and the patient will feel reassured that they are in safe hands if our message and service remains the same throughout their experience. Any doubt can lead to a lack of confidence and make things difficult. Of course, some patients would prefer to approach the clinic by more traditional methods such as calling or dropping by. My entire team mystery shop other clinics at least once annually with the objective of putting themselves into the patient’s shoes. They look at presentation, information and cleanliness. However, what is more important is that they truly feel what our patients feel. There are some great clinics out there and it is so good to hear when my team return full of inspiration. The exercise is about more than information gathering as it forces the team to examine how they talk to people and react to situations; they also feel the nervous anxiety when they are waiting to explain to someone what they least like about themselves, and how the attitude of those they come into contact with can influence this experience. The ambience in waiting areas varies hugely, and trying to reflect your brand image and showcase your offering whilst creating a comfortable and inviting area can be challenging. Patients can also be waiting a considerable amount of time, so essentials like cleanliness and comfort are basic but vital things to get right in order to avoid a bumpy first meeting. Interaction and information are also key considerations here. We feel it is important that the reception team do not use the reception desk as a barrier. When a patient arrives the receptionist should come around from behind the desk to welcome them, and, if needed, put the patient at ease. They also must ensure they keep patients abreast of any changes, as time is precious to us all. Little touches are always the icing on the cake; they do not have to cost much but do make a huge difference. Detailed follow-up calls, skincare tips, a personal visit from our own surgeon, Mr Karidis, following their surgery – these things all add to the experience. Within our clinic, Mr Karidis sends each of his surgical patients flowers, which are waiting for them in their room when they return from theatre. This is just a small gesture, but one that is always well received.

Striving For Improvement

Receiving feedback, whether positive or otherwise, is always a blessing. Through our patient satisfaction surveys, we are able to nip dissatisfaction in the bud and formulate plans to make future experiences even better. Making time to listen to our patients is crucial to giving our clinic heart. Although feedback may occasionally not be as positive as you had hoped, it is also a starting point to help you overcome future situations and build upon solid foundations. Any patient dissatisfaction is discussed at our weekly meetings and, as a team, we work out how to resolve them with the best possible outcome for all. One question I have asked my team is to imagine they were considering surgery; what are the questions that they would want to ask, but feel too embarrassed (or too foolish) to ask? Their questions were sometimes personal and sometimes so obvious that we have never addressed them in our patient journey information. Results from these sessions have formed the basis of how we plan to move forward. It is a very good exercise and has really got the team to think like our patients.

Clinical Consultation

Once a patient gets to the stage of consultation and treatment, Mr Karidis, supported by our clinical and admin teams, works hard to ensure that each detail is addressed and that outcomes are discussed to make sure there are no surprises. Only once the patient has been fully consulted do they meet with an administrator to discuss logistics and pricing. This is a major part of the customer journey and a huge step for each patient, which is why it is absolutely vital that each patient meets Mr Karidis so he can assess and advise them as individuals, based on his knowledge and experience. Patients invest a lot in this process, not just financially but also with trust, with the added potential of exposing a plethora of feelings including guilt, fear and anxiety. A patient meeting their surgeon and the supporting team with whom they are investing is integral to the journey within our clinic. Results of our mystery shop also allow us to gauge follow up after a consultation. However, there is no industry formula here – we all want patients to feel cared for, but not harassed. In our experience, many clinics do not appear to follow up at all. From their mystery shops, members of my team reported that they liked a clinic who sent a well constructed personal email which thanked them for coming and sign-posted that a call would be made in a week’s time to discuss matters further, but that also gave an option to decline this call. This ensures there are no surprises and that patients have the choice to opt out easily. Following their procedures, our clinic has many patients who want to share their positive results with others. What is fantastic for us is that these people become ambassadors for our clinic and at prearranged times will talk to prospective patients, with a view to providing reassurance and answering any questions they might have. 

Moving On

Keeping in touch with our patients is key to the success of our business. The team are instrumental in how often people are contacted and, again, this can be through various methods including social media, online forums, newsletters and emails to keep people informed. One of our main ways to engage with patients is through our events and gatherings. We host information evenings for our patients and potential patients with speakers well-established in the aesthetic field to discuss topics and treatments, and to answer any questions. Mr Karidis is always on hand at these events to offer new, insightful information, but, most importantly, will utilise the opportunity to interact with each attendee. We believe this is vital to help people see that he respects and understands how important these social events are, as well as the private consultation. We strive to ensure that our events offer an ‘open door’ policy; where nothing is hidden from attendees who wish to learn more. Participation and excellent communication make the journey through our clinic smoother for the patient. Keeping patients informed and making them feel comfortable and reassured at every point, increasing their confidence in the practice and allowing them to break down their barriers and communicate effectively is key. Surveying our patients about what they like and getting them involved in our future choices and the way we do things has formed a huge part of our plans for 2015, and will be evident in the direction our business takes in the coming years. Our goal is to continue to make it easy for people to glean all the information that they need for making informed decisions, with a very good idea of the agreed potential outcome. With increasing demands and ever changing expectations there will always be room for improvement, however by actively engaging our team and keeping things simple, approachable and accessible, the patient journey becomes a harmonious experience for all. 

In Practice 

 “Surgery is a big step for most people, and making this decision is associated with a host of different emotions, such as fear and anxiety. We always try to reassure patients as best we can, keeping open channels of communication even after the consultation, so in the event of any uncertainty they can quickly get their questions answered. We hope that this all leads to a very reassured atmosphere for the patient, which makes them feel safe in our hands. When armed with proper information, patients can make a properly informed decision about whether or not surgery is for them. From the moment a patient begins to contemplate possible surgery, that’s when the journey begins. We as a practice and collective team have the ability to favourably influence this patient journey at various points in order to make it as seamless, painless and comfortable as possible. If we can end that journey with a happy and satisfied patient, then we can consider that we have done our job well. Many return for other treatments, and this is a testament to our skills in being able to offer a great patient journey, which in turn gives our team great job satisfaction.”

 Mr Alex Karidis, founder of Karidis Cosmetic Surgery London

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