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Incognito 'patients' offer evaluation services in staff-to-patient communications

Article-Incognito 'patients' offer evaluation services in staff-to-patient communications

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  • Mystery shopping services to help bolster your business? Maybe. Here's an inside look at what they may be able to do for you.

Incognito 'patients' offer evaluation services in staff-to-patient communications

There's no mystery about the fact that the sagging economy has cut into the cosmetic surgery business. According to statistics released earlier this year by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans spent $10.3 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2008 — nine percent less than 2007 spending.

However, the concept of mystery shoppers — or in the case of medical practices, mystery patients — could possibly help practitioners reclaim some of their lost business.


There are companies that specialize in helping practices increase their number of patients — and perhaps more importantly, increase patient satisfaction. They do this in two ways (and in the case of some companies, both ways): Specially trained agents — the mystery patients — call practices posing as prospective patients to evaluate the extent to which staffers handle calls professionally and efficiently; or the agents pose as patients to find out how staffs' interpersonal skills can be improved. In both cases, the goal is to optimize the effectiveness of patient-to-office telephone calls and/or face-to-face staff-to-patient communication.

One such company is Scheduling Institute, an Atlanta-based firm that claims — indeed, guarantees — that its clients will increase their number of patients by 10 to 15 percent, simply by training staff in the nuances of properly handling prospective patients' phone calls.

"Our program is designed add that 10 to 15 percent increase with little or no increase in a practice's marketing and advertising budget," says Scheduling Institute President Jay Geier. "There's always a gap that exists between the number of prospective patients who call a practice and the number who actually make an appointment. Our job is to give staff the tools they need to close that gap."

Mr. Geier tells Cosmetic Surgery Times that when fielding calls from prospective patients, staffers fail to take a critical step: getting the caller to make an appointment.

"Staff persons often think it's enough to be pleasant and polite, and those are, obviously, important elements in handling calls," he says. "But staff are often turned off by thinking of themselves as salespersons, especially in a medical-practice scenario. We teach them in a way that they'll feel comfortable in asking for an appointment, and we teach them to be more efficient."


A Scheduling Institute mystery patient will do an up-front call to a prospective client/practice — at no cost or obligation, and, of course, unbeknownst to the staff — and rate the call based on the staffer's phone manners, efficiency and professionalism.

Once hired, Scheduling Institute trains staff — either via self-training CDs or DVDs or a day-long face-to-face session with an Institute trainer—to properly handle five critical call elements: the greeting, answering questions, transitioning to the close (the point at which the caller is asked to schedule an appointment), the close itself ("You'd be amazed how often staffers don't ask callers if they want to make an appointment," Mr. Geier says), and gathering patient information.

"If these five elements aren't handled the right way, it results in barriers and the caller will be turned off," Mr. Geier says. "You'd be amazed at some of the questions our mystery patients are asked, like 'Are you afraid of needles?' We teach staff to minimize the number of questions asked and what questions not to ask. We don't teach them a list of questions and we don't teach a script — we teach a concept of thinking about the questions they ask to get the results they want."

Following training, mystery calls continue — and follow-up reports are issued — to help ensure staff compliance. Mr. Geier says the self-training materials cost $1,699, while the one-day training seminar costs $5,100. A variety of membership packages are available for practices desiring ongoing training/evaluation services.

"If a practice applies our program principles properly and it doesn't realize at least 10 percent increase in patients numbers, we will refund the money, no questions

asked," Mr. Geier says. "We have never had to do that, by the way."

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