According to research from New York University, people form quite detailed first impressions of each other within the first seven seconds of meeting.
In a business setting, this means that from the very first time someone walks into an office or a place of service, opinions that can affect the consumer experience are made.
It’s no different in a healthcare environment either, according to a series of focus groups held by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement (NHSI). In this study, one mother even said: “I can tell what kind of care my daughter is going to get within 15 steps of walking into a ward.”
This comment struck such a chord with the NHSI, and rang so true with the sentiments of other focus group members, that from this the 15 Step Challenge was born.
The NHS 15 Step Challenge is an easy-to-use toolkit that aims to provide valuable insight on how your patients would describe good healthcare. It’s also an excellent technique for getting your clinical team to look around the work environment with fresh eyes and see where improvements can be made.
The Challenge applies not just to NHS dentists but to private practices as well, as suggestions in the toolkit align with a number of CQC core standards. This can help greatly when an official inspection comes about.
The NHS makes it clear that the Challenge is not an audit or performance management measure; rather it’s a useful method of understanding patients’ first impressions more clearly. And it seems seeing your practice from the care receiver’s point of view can also help from a business standpoint.
According to a 2011 consumer survey patient loyalty is on the decline, with less than half of respondents agreeing that they wouldn’t change their dentist unless they really had to. Younger patients are more inclined to shop around as well, with barely a third describing themselves as ‘loyal’ to their current dentist.
Respective to this, there is no better time to step up the service and make sure that you’re ticking all the boxes when it comes to patient satisfaction.
The 15 Step Challenge toolkit can be downloaded from the NHS Institute website, and focuses on these important questions about the practice:
- Is it welcoming?
- Is it safe?
- Is it caring and involving?
- Is it calm and well organised?
These areas of focus and the checklists included in the toolkit are designed to make you look around your clinic and assess what your patients might see. Is your reception area friendly and inviting? Is there adequate information on display, such as prices for both NHS and private services? What does a patient hear, smell or feel when they first walk in?
Aside from the physical state of your clinic, your staff accounts greatly for the patient experience as well. A welcoming smile from the receptionist, prompt attendance by a nurse and a friendly and professional encounter with the dentist all contribute to a satisfactory experience.
As for the patient’s perception of safety, calm and organisation, these can be taken away from everything including the attitude of the staff, the mood of your décor and the state of your equipment.
Of course, there’s hardly a need for the complete refurbishment of your entire practice. But if you see that some of your main pieces of equipment can do with an upgrade, a few improvements that will make the patient feel like they’re receiving the very best care can do wonders. Your dental unit, for example, is the central part of your treatment room and becomes the main area of focus as soon as your patient walks in.
Improving the healthcare service you provide can be achieved in a number of ways, big or small. Minor adjustments made in staff decorum, informative posters put on display, and equipment upgrades can all change the way your patients perceive the treatment they get.
So the next time you walk into your practice, try to assess things from a different perspective. Seeing your service from your patient’s point of view can present valuable insight on how you can offer the best dentistry possible.
Adam Shaw is a technical sales consultant at RPA Dental ltd. At 16 he began his career as an apprentice engineer, attending college one day a week and after a four-year period completing an NVQ Level 2 & 3 along with a C&G qualification in electrical and mechanical engineering. From there he spent five years as a service engineer until gaining promotion to a senior status within the department.
Twelve months ago Adam moved into the Sales department whereupon using his engineering background and the new skills gained such as fully trained autocad technician, his role is now to offer clients the help and support required on various levels dependant on individual needs.