MRS 2016 Meeting Recap: How To Use the Patient Experience as a Business Strategy

By Griffin Jones

You could put summer-time Chicago against just about any city in the world, so we're all glad that Dr. Angeline Beltsos, MD doesn't hold the Midwest Reproductive Symposium international (MRSi) in February. From June 15-18, without a cloud in the sky and an oceanic view of Lake Michigan, we met at MRSi 2016 at the historic Drake Hotel in Gold Coast. The event boasted a Business Minds Meeting, a Nurses' Practicum, and a Scientific Program. I went back to Chicago this year for my second MRSi because it's just the right size. It's a great place to connect with colleagues who share your practice role and also for physicians, nurses, and practice managers to share programming and meaningful conversation with one another. If you haven't been, add MRSi to the list for next year. You'll be able to talk to people and listen to topics that you won't always be able to get to at ASRM.

Panel discussion at MRSi Business Minds Meeting

Panel discussion at MRSi Business Minds Meeting

While I did attend some of Friday's Scientific Program, I'll use this post to run down Thursday's Business Minds Meeting for some of the things that you really need to know about utilizing different aspects of your clinic operations to grow your practice.

The ART of Incorporating the PATIENT EXPERIENCE as the Center of the Business Strategy

Janet Fraser, Board President of Fertility Matters and the COO of Atlantic Assisted Reproductive Therapies (AART), co-chaired the meeting with Derek Larkin, CEO of Boston IVF. 

“Improving our patients’ experience makes our patients happier and it’s better for our business”, Fraser mentioned of the day's theme. The thought was reinforced by all of the speakers; fine-tuning our operations so that our patients are more satisfied is measurably beneficial to the top line of the practice. Larkin emphasized the importance of continually adjusting to patient needs. "Patient expectations are continually evolving, and so must the experience that we provide to them. It's an unending process."

Incorporating Emotional Support to Decrease Patient Burden During Infertility Treatment

Dr. Alice Domar, PhD of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF talked about the importance of focusing not only on patient recruitment, but also on patient retention. “It’s human nature to pay attention to the patients in front of you, and not the ones who you don’t see (those who have dropped out of care). Studies have shown that people who were depressed were far more likely to drop out of their IVF cycle." Domar points to a 2004 Boston IVF study: Of 112 respondents, 40% displayed psychiatric disorders while going through infertility treatment. A separate 2011 study shows that care was significantly higher of a priority for patients, as opposed to physicians, for whom the greatest priority was success rates. "67% of people declined to fill out a survey on self-reporting depression because they didn’t want their physician to know how depressed they were," Domar adds. To date, four different studies show that infertility patients have the same levels of anxiety as cancer patients. 

Boston IVF tested retention techniques in a 2015 study that was published in Fertility and Sterility. Drop out rates reduced 67% in the intervention group."If you have effective communication with your patients, they perceive that you spent more time with them". Domar brings to attention the dollar amounts that practices spend on marketing to new patients, and how little is spent on retaining them by responding to trends in drop outs. 
 

Getting Staff Buy-In On The Importance of The Patient Experience

Hannah Johnson speaking on patient retention, courtesy of Vios Facebook page

Hannah Johnson speaking on patient retention, courtesy of Vios Facebook page

“Intrinsic motivation tends to be lost when we only focus on the extrinsic motivators, so we have to focus on activities where the reward is inherent in what we’re doing". Hannah Johnson, Director of Operations at Vios Global dives deep into how we motivate and empower our team members to take personal interest in each of their patient interactions. We need to allow our team to step back to appreciate the positive difference they make, including making sure they are aware when they are named in positive patient comments. We also need to empower them to correct errors. "It’s okay for your staff to make mistakes. Let’s talk about how we can make the patient feel really good about what happened.”

 

The Magic of Using the Patient Experience as a Focal Point of Your Employees' Day

“People don’t do what the mission of the organization states, they do what their managers pay attention to.” Lisa Duran is the CEO of Reconceived and has trained dozens of fertility centers in North America on how to build a patient-focused culture. Duran says that when many practices don't feel like they're fulfilling their mission statements, it's often because of a breakdown in the details of execution. We broke out into separate teams to identify challenges that different members of our team face in their day-to-day duties, and how we might be able to support them. Departments and staff need reinforcement and understanding from one another. “I want to know that my opinion matters,” Duran says of the most common desire that staff report before going into training.

In their own words

We had the privilege of hearing the first hand account of a couple who has gone through infertility treatment for many years. When asked what would have most benefited them to know when they first began their treatment, they each replied
"Don't be complacent if you're not getting the answers you need. Keep asking". 
"I wish that I wouldn't have waited so long. I wish I would have sought out treatment much earlier".
Hearing from patients in panel-form was a first for me at MRSi, and should be common practice at our conferences...imho.

Strategic Planning: Folding the Patient Experience into Your Business Plans

"Perception is reality. What patients feel is what they share." Rick Dietz, Chief Business Officer of Boston IVF, spoke in detail about the constant feedback loop of implementing and adjusting to patient input. Dietz says that practice strategy should be informed by a number of different metrics, and that self-reporting from patients is only one method at our disposal. "We can use patient surveys to give us clues and direction. But they don't tell the whole story."

Never Underestimate the Role of the Nurse in Patient Retention

"Nurses need proper training of how to talk with patients or you're going to get a lot more questions." Lori Whalen, RN, of HRC Fertility spoke about the importance of nurses as agents of patient retention. Whalen reminds us that nurses frequently have the most contact with patients and can be excellent sources of what patients want or what about our operations might be frustrating them. They can even find other solutions to patient problems, such as helping them find ways to save money. "Shared donors can cut costs in half for patients who wouldn't be able to afford it otherwise," Whalen says.

The Vital Role of Digital Media in Recruiting New Patients 

It was my first time speaking in the field and I was very pleased to have a great audience that asked meaningful questions. What can I say in this single post that isn't better summarized in greater detail throughout the blog? Suffice it to say that I reaffirmed what matters above all else in fertility marketing: the attention of people dealing with infertility. When we know what people with infertility are paying attention to, then we can measure how we will increase IVF cycles, increase patient-to-patient referrals, and improve our conversions of prospective patients to scheduled patients. You can view the first half of my talk here:

It takes a village

The strongest recurring theme of the Business Minds meeting was the critical involvement of everyone at the practice. I frequently see public feedback when patients are happy with their physicians, but not their staff, and vice-versa. Patients form their opinions about their experience based on every interaction they have with us; from the receptionist who greets them, to the medical team that cares for them, to exceptional customer service both online and offline. When we support all of the role players on our team, and learn about best practices from clinic groups across North America, we can dramatically improve both our delivery of care and patient satisfaction. Now that's an excellent foundation for growth. I recommend that at least once a year, you accompany a few of your team members to an inter-role meeting like MRSi to identify how you can improve your practice operations. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn from your own team, and what they learn from you.

See you next year at MRSi 2017!