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Best practices for showing staff how to have empathetic discussions

Insights from the Outside is a group of practicing clinician-owners from multiple healthcare disciplines including dentistry, audiology, ophthalmology and veterinary medicine. Uniquely created by CareCredit, the group’s purpose is to capture and share “best practices” to some of the common challenges all healthcare business owners face, such as attracting new patients/customers, patient/customer barriers to care, care acceptance, patient/customer retention, social media, team training and empowerment, and much more. Recently, the panel expanded to include practice administrators and office managers—professionals on the front line who are often the ones responsible for guiding the patient/customer from treatment recommendations to acceptance. The newest member to the panel is Patty Casebolt, the chief quality officer at Medical Eye Center in Medford, Oregon.

Q: Knowing the right words to say during the financial conversation can often mean the difference between a patient/customer moving forward with care or walking out the door. Patty, you have four steps for managing the payment discussion with emotional intelligence. Can you take us through each step and share with us what your team does in your practice?

Patty CaseboltPatty Casebolt

Patty Casebolt: I’d be happy to. The easiest and most impactful thing that any of us can do is simply be human. Part of emotional intelligence involves understanding the other person, having human empathy and using it as a way to connect. The first step in managing the financial discussion with emotional intelligence is to connect and build rapport—which is foundational to building trust. If a patient/customer doesn’t trust the staff and providers, they aren’t as likely to be open about their financial situation or any other concern they may have. The outcome of building rapport with our patients/customers is a mutual understanding and increased trust. So how do we build rapport with patients/customers? Start with these five key factors:  

  1. Authenticity—Always be open and honest with patients/customers.
  2. Curiosity—Have a curious and helpful attitude.
  3. Questioning—Ask questions to find out what is important to patients/customers.
  4. Listening—Listen for the deeper underlying need or desire.
  5. Checking—Elicit feedback from patients/customers to confirm understanding.

Q: Understanding how to connect and build rapport with patients/customers is instrumental to creating a positive patient/customer experience. It really does start there. What’s the second step?

Patty Casebolt: The second step is to look for emotional cues. The largest part of communication is body language and tone. If you are paying attention to more than just the words that are spoken, you will be more effective in your communication. This is especially important in the time and environment that we are in currently. Some people are more stressed for a variety of reasons. It is helpful to have a heightened awareness of this and be mindful of slowing down and tuning in to your patient/customer, as well as yourself. Stress breeds stress, so paying attention to your own emotional regulation is vital as well.  

Q: How do you accomplish this when the patient/customer isn’t in front of you?

Patty Casebolt: I assume you’re referring to telemedicine, which has become an important tool for many practices. It is much more difficult to see the whole person and to read emotional cues like a tapping foot or crossed arms when dealing with a patient/customer remotely. Physical cues like these can be very informative, but with telemedicine they are obviously more of a challenge to see. So you really have to kind of act like a detective and look for congruency between the words spoken by the patient/customer and their tone.

Q: What is the third step in managing the financial discussion with emotional intelligence?

Patty Casebolt: The third step is to put cost into perspective. Many patients/customers may assume that they can’t afford a product or procedure and make decisions based on that assumption. By educating the patient/customer about all of your payment options, you can show them how you can help fit care in their budget. It is helpful to compare the monthly payment amount to other common costs the patient/customer may be familiar with. We find that once a patient/customer sees the cost broken down into bite-sized pieces, they will often decide to add to their purchase amount because they see they can afford it.

Q: What is the fourth step?

Patty Casebolt: The fourth step is to add convenience. Patients/customers appreciate when a provider has anticipated their needs and is proactive in meeting them. Discussing all of your payment options right up front helps patients/cutomers relax and feel in control. Giving the option of applying in the office on an iPad helps maintain privacy and also expedites the approval process. For patients/customers who are not ready to come into the office, having the ability to apply on your website from the comfort of their home is helpful. As an added convenience, make sure your financing application button is located on the front page of your website. This will save your patients/customers time and frustration from having to dig around to find this information. Also, with the advent of telemedicine, many electronic health record (EHR) companies are enhancing their patient/customer portals and including upgraded financial functionality, so make sure to take advantage of this if it is available to you.

Q: Why is approaching patients/customers with emotional intelligence so important for the patient/customer experience?

Patty Casebolt: We know that emotion drives behavior. If we can understand the emotion that is underneath the behaviors that we see, then we are better able to address the patient’s/customer’s needs. When the patient/customer feels understood and connected to our practice, that patient/customer is more likely to become a raving fan. We want every patient/customer to feel significant and to ultimately trust that we have their best interest at heart.

Q: How have you seen success with this process in your practice?

Patty Casebolt: Absolutely. We hear it daily from our patients/customers. We routinely hear how surprised patients/customers are at how big our practice is, and yet patients say they feel “seen” and understood. We look at our numbers and they reflect what our patients/customers tell us about their experience in our practice. We look at how we compare to national benchmarks as well and we share this information with our staff. When we see an issue, we share openly and move to correct it. We use the same emotional intelligence approach with our staff as with our patients/customers. We want to know what is working and not working from their perspective and we encourage continuous feedback. We aren’t perfect—and when we don’t get it right, we ask a lot of questions, listen deeply, and take responsibility to correct it.

Q: How did you train your staff in emotional intelligence?

Patty Casebolt: We have invested a lot in staff training. It starts during the interview process. We have designed our interview questions to sort for people who are naturally open and have a high degree of emotional intelligence. We weave emotional intelligence skill building into all of our trainings. We expect all of our staff to learn about themselves because the best way to connect with your patient/customer is to first connect with yourself. Ultimately, real relationships are built by being real with one another.

So for us, emotional intelligence training begins with helping employees recognize their own emotions, but doesn’t end there. Once employees learn about their own emotional triggers and susceptibilities, they must take the important step of also being aware of the emotions of those they interact with. We offer scripting of common sales scenarios with patients/customers, such as scripts to facilitate lifestyle conversations, but we emphasize the importance of going beyond the scripts to see each patient/customer as individuals with individual reactions to the information provided to them.

We also lean on our industry experts to help us bring in fresh perspectives and expertise. We include outside consulting in our training budget. And, finally, we do a lot of mystery shopping and shadowing of ourselves. Our motto is “trust but verify”.

To learn more visit, www.carecredit.com/providercenter/durablemedicalequipment/


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CareCredit is a health, wellness and personal care credit card dedicated to helping people get the care they want and need. For more than 30 years, CareCredit has helped millions of people by offering special financing options with convenient monthly payments. CareCredit is accepted at more than 210,000 locations for a wide variety of health and wellness procedures, treatments, products and services. CareCredit is a Synchrony solution. Synchrony is the largest provider of private label credit cards in the U.S. Visit carecredit.com to learn more.

This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit (collectively, “Synchrony”), makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accepts no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in this article are the sole opinions of Patty Casebolt. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.