The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

7 ways to improve customer service at your medical practice

Try these 7 strategies to improve patient experience and retention.

Staff member demonstrates how to improve customer service at your medical practice by helping patient with intake on tablet

At a Glance

  • Providing excellent customer service is crucial for practices, as poor service is often the leading reason patients leave their providers.
  • Key areas to focus on improving customer service include creating positive first impressions, streamlining appointment scheduling and registration processes, embracing technology like telehealth, and valuing patients’ time.
  • Practices can enhance the patient experience by addressing billing issues transparently, creating comfortable waiting areas, and following through on promises made to patients.

Medical office staff tend to wear a lot of hats from one day to the next (sometimes even from one hour to the next). On any given day, doctors and nurses have to morph themselves into accountants, insurance liaisons, social media whizzes, and IT staff. Understandably, that could leave everyone feeling spread a little thin from time to time. Still, staff shouldn’t ever forget their critical role as customer service representatives.  

Medical practices largely focus on the doctor-patient relationship, but at a fundamental level, you and your staff are providing a service. Believe it or not, patients still expect to be treated like customers — and a disconnect between the two may ultimately cost you some names on your patient roster. 

At the end of the day, patient satisfaction extends beyond clinical outcomes. It encompasses every interaction patients have with your staff, from the moment they call to schedule an appointment to their post-visit follow-up. Ahead, we’ll explore practical ways to elevate your patients’ customer service experience to ensure they feel valued and supported throughout their healthcare journey.

1. Focus on first impressions with customer service at your practice

If you examine how interactions work with your office, you’ll find that patients begin and end their visits with the front desk staff. Your “front-of-house” employees are the first people patients speak to when they call and the first faces patients see when they walk in for an office visit. 

So, first and foremost, it’s important to ensure that your front desk staff makes a good impression. Not only should they be able to handle phone interactions and front desk processes quickly and efficiently, but they should also bear the brunt of establishing relationships and building rapport with patients. 

Unfortunately, though, most practices make the mistake of assuming that the nuances of customer service are intuitive or common sense — they are not. Customer service failures are the leading reason why patients choose to end their relationships with their providers. 

In fact, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Practice Management revealed that 96% of medical office complaints were a result of poor customer service, and only 4% were directly due to patient care.  

According to our 2024 Patient Perspective Survey, 31% of respondents said they had left their healthcare provider because of a poor experience with the office staff. This comes in second only to poor experiences with the healthcare providers themselves (47%). Moreover, while an “excellent experience with the provider” is the number one reason patients return (61%), an “excellent experience with the office staff” comes in third. 

According to our 2024 Patient Perspective Survey, 31% of respondents said they had left their healthcare provider because of a poor experience with the office staff. ”

The takeaway? Service matters and customer service training for medical practices will likely pay dividends in the way of happier patients. 

2. Streamline appointment scheduling, reminders, and registrations

While most medical practices still conduct a large part of outside interactions with patients by phone, it would seem that patients are increasingly jumping on the digital train. Instead of phone calls, many prefer online scheduling, registration, and reminders via text message. 

Our 2024 Patient Perspective Survey revealed that as much as 68% of respondents indicated their desire for a patient portal, while 92% said they were willing to fill out forms digitally. 

Moreover, the same survey shows the top digital tools on patient wish lists are:  

  • Appointment reminders (69%)
  • Registration forms (68%)
  • Appointment scheduling (64%)

All of this to say an easy way to improve customer service for your patients is to boost your online presence and give them the digital tools they want. 

3. Embrace technology for telemedicine

A big part of customer service is meeting your patients where they’re at, literally and figuratively. 

So, beyond streamlining appointment setting, reminders, and registrations, consider offering telehealth appointments for patients who need or want them. 

Telehealth is a customer service that allows patients to receive care from the comfort of their homes — improving accessibility — but it can also go a long way toward reducing your no-show rates. ”

Incidentally, telehealth can be a win-win. It’s a customer service that allows patients to receive care from the comfort of their homes — improving accessibility — but it can also go a long way toward reducing your no-show rates. 

Create high-quality video visits, group appointments, dedicated provider URLs, virtual waiting rooms, and custom patient communications with Tebra’s HIPAA- and HITRUST-certified telehealth solution.

4. Check your billing practices

Billing issues and a lack of understanding can be a major source of frustration for patients. So, as a service to your patients, be sure to clearly communicate billing procedures, offer transparent pricing, and provide support for any billing inquiries they may have. 

Additionally, consider ways to improve billing statements and the process so that they are easily understandable. This will reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.

5. Value patients' time

Long wait times are a thorn in the side of many patients, so it’s in your best interest not to make it a habit. When the odd appointment runs long, or some other curve ball comes your way, transparency is best. You and your staff should communicate the hiccup as quickly as possible, apologize honestly, and reschedule if need be. At the very least, ask the patient if they would prefer to wait or reschedule at their earliest convenience. 

Above all else, communication is key. The more patients are kept informed and updated about their wait, the more likely they will be to stay calm.

Download the report

6. Create comfortable waiting areas

If you can make waiting more pleasant, patients may be less likely to lodge complaints or fly off the handle. Beyond keeping these spaces clean, comfortable, and organized, consider adding a few thoughtful extras like updated reading materials, Wi-Fi, and light refreshments (like water, tea, or coffee) to enhance their experience. 

7. Keep your promises 

On the whole, patients tend to have little patience for waiting — whether it’s in your office waiting area or by the phone for a callback. So, if you or a member of your staff promises to get back to a patient, be sure to do so.

Even if you don’t have an answer, at least call to let them know you haven’t forgotten about them and are still working on it. Believe it or not, a 30-second phone call can make your patient feel valued and important. 

Even a 30-second phone call can make your patient feel valued and important. ”

Improve customer service at your medical practice with these tips

If you’re not there already, the first key to improving customer service is taking a patient-centric approach. By investing in customer service training for your medical practice, you can create an environment where patients feel valued and supported. 

Combine exceptional care with an exceptional patient experience: Request a demo of Tebra’s complete operating system today.

Get the playbook
Access the free workbook
Get valuable resources plus practical worksheets to aid you in your journey toward efficient and effective medical billing.
How to Beat Medical Billing Challenges

You Might Also Be Interested In

Learn how to create a seamless patient experience that increases loyalty and reduces churn, while providing personalized care that drives practice growth in Tebra’s free guide to optimizing your practice.

Subscribe to The Intake:
A weekly check-up for your independent practice

Sharon Brandwein, Freelance healthcare writer

Sharon Brandwein, CSSC, is a certified sleep science coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health, parenting, and all things sleep. In her work on independent healthcare practices, she focuses on helping providers with their messages and resources, which ultimately benefits patients. She believes that independent practices are likely to be more responsive to patients’ needs, ultimately boosting care. Her work has appeared on ABC News, USA Today, Parents, and Forbes.

Get expert tips, guides, and valuable insights for your healthcare practice