Every day in our offices, patients present with a variety of ailments and conditions. As Podiatric professionals we are trained to quickly recognize, diagnose and treat these conditions in a way that sets us apart from other fields of medicine. I remember early on in my career, I overheard a patient ask Dr. Aronson, “Why did you ever get into feet?” The answer that he gave, I now understand to hold true every day. “Well, Dr. Aronson explained, I got into feet because normally when patients leave my office they feel better than when they came in. Even if they are still having discomfort, I have given them the tools to understand their condition and have instructed them as to what they can do to feel better.” It is this instant gratification that we are all seeking that makes Podiatry such a unique specialty.
For this reason it is important that Podiatrists make sure they in fact have all the “tools” they need to diagnose and treat every type of patient that walks through the door. This includes everything from digital X-Ray and diagnostic ultrasound to stocking commonly used DME items such as Nightsplints, walkers, braces, healing shoes, and more. Why would you refer a patient out to be fitted an item that is needed today, and keeps cash flow in house? In my travels, I have often found that doctors don’t realize the importance of meeting patients’ needs right there in their office until it is too late. Nothing is worse than coming face to face with a patient, returning for a follow up visit, after being dissatisfied with the treatment or product they have received from the facility that you referred them to. In this case, you are now forced to deal with a lapse in the patient’s recovery as it directly relates to their compliance as well as the fact that they now question your judgement and treatment plan.
Not only does this apply to Nightsplints, ankle stirrups and custom braces, the same holds true when dispensing cash products such as topical antifungals, medical strength moisturizers, pre- fabricated orthotics and more. Having everything right there in your office is all part of the instant gratification your patients are looking for. Convenience is what it’s all about and, when your patients are using the products of your choice, compliance rates increase, outcomes are better and referrals go through the roof! The idea is to take what you have already experienced (whether you realize it or not) and build on that. How often do you treat a new patient, who has been referred by a friend that is now pain free thanks to the orthotics you fit her with last month? The answer is, everyday!
This begins by knowing how to offer all of these products without becoming a warehouse wholesale club! Many Podiatrists never consider carrying more than a few products for their patients because “they just don’t have the space.” Recently, after much discussion, we decided to open our own “dispensing center.” In our case, we were fortunate enough to already have a good size room adjacent to our reception area, which we converted from under utilized office space. However, upon doing some research, we found many creative ways of displaying products which would have been just as effective in a much smaller area (still providing adequate display room and ease of dispensing). Slat walls, for example, are a great way to showcase products, keep them out of the way and allow for frequent additions and changes. They come in a variety of sizes and finishes and can transform any space (whether it be one wall of your reception area or an entire treatment room) into a “dispensing center.”
I would advise any Podiatrist who is truly committed to increasing patient satisfaction as well as cash flow to try this. After all, you are the foot and ankle specialist, and your patients have chosen you to advise them on how to improve their conditions and ailments. You are not a sales person, nor should you ever be. You simply offer the products and services that your patients need. And, it should be made very clear that no matter what they decide, “We always carry these medical grade products for your convenience.” This no pressure approach, along with the money back guarantee offered by most of your quality vendors, makes it easy for the patient to see that you are confident in the products you are offering (not “selling”).
The last part of the compliance to profitability puzzle is solved by having a highly trained staff. When a new employee is hired, make sure time is set aside for that person to shadow each member of your staff (including you, the physician). This gives your staff insight into your methods of treating as well as understanding which types of patients are being seen on a daily basis. This not only helps with proper scheduling, but allows for fewer billing errors and communication mishaps. In a similar manor, your podiatric assistants should be well trained to evaluate patients in a way that allows you to diagnose more efficiently and, in many cases, foresee which treatment protocols will need to be followed. It is also important that your back office assistants (those who are hands on with patients) have a good understanding of which products (self pay and reimbursable DME items) you will be suggesting, as they can briefly discuss these with patients prior to their treatment. This way, the “seed has already been planted” and now, you can reinforce the idea of using appropriate, medical grade products at home, in addition to their office visits. These factors will ensure that your office runs smoothly and gives your patients the confidence to know they have chosen the right facility for their Podiatric care.
The success of your practice will be ensured by increasing compliance and improving patient outcomes. You can easily accomplish this by offering all the tools your patients need to treat their conditions in the convenience of your office. Train your staff to understand all that it is involved in your treatment protocols and get them actively involved in administering them. Continue to educate your staff and keep yourself abreast of all the new and improved products and services that are offered in your scope of practice. By having more compliant patients, your bottom line will increase right along with the number of happy feet walking out your door. After all, happy feet walking out means more aching feet hobbling in!
by Cindy Pezza