5 Steps for Spine Surgeons to Take Patient Experience to the Next Level

Laura Dyrda -  

TyPatient satisfaction is important for any physician group, and more spine groups are beginning to tailor their practices around that patient experience.


"When there are Starbucks on every corner and hotels that are customer-oriented, people associate that kind of service with a higher quality of care," says Ty Thaiyananthan, MD, a neurosurgeon focusing on minimally invasive spine surgery and founder of BASIC Spine in Newport Beach, Calif. "Their perception of that experience really determines how they perceive the practice."


Dr. Ty discusses five ways spine groups can take their practice experience and patient satisfaction to the next level.


1. Make the practice more welcoming — like a massage therapy office. Patients want a welcoming and calming atmosphere at the physician's office, more like a massage therapist's office than a sterile hospital environment. Non-surgical specialists such as massage therapists and chiropractors have experience catering their facilities more toward patient comfort; discuss possibilities for upgrading your office space with them.


"We integrated massage therapy in our clinic and the aesthetics were totally different," says Dr. Ty. "Most physicians operate in a clinical environment, and traditionally that has been a sterile environment with exam tables. That's unwelcoming, but I think there is a trend toward making the physician's office more welcoming for the patient as the market becomes more competitive."


Aesthetic changes to the practice include modeling the lobby at BASIC Spine after a spa and including ambient music and aroma therapy.


"When you come in there is a multisensory experience with the smell, sound and visual appeal," says Dr. Ty. "In our clinics we have salt water tanks and built waterfalls in the waiting area. Most patients don't like seeing the surgeon because it's stressful, so anything you can do to minimize the anxiety makes the visit better."


2. Redecorate with your key demographic in mind. The key patient population for BASIC Spine is people in their 40s to senior citizens, so the surgeons decided to create a "high-tech" feel in the practice without making it alienating. Patient in-take is done with an iPad and patients review educational information on the iPad when they check out.


"We have a functional entertainment component with the iPad where patients enter their information and review animations before they leave," says Dr. Ty. "It's a different experience when they have visual education. It keeps them entertained during the work up, but we are still able to accomplish the goals of the visit."


Also keeping this demographic in mind, BASIC Spine keeps fresh flowers in the waiting room to make the atmosphere more inviting.


3. Remove barriers between patients, staff and surgeons. Make the practice staff and physicians as accessible as possible to patients coming in for visits. Remove any glass window between the waiting area and front desk; this is the first thing patients see when they walk in and you want to make a positive impression.


"We took out the glass window at the front desk and got rid of the white coats for surgeons," says Dr. Ty. "Everyone has unified black scrubs with their names and job titles on them. This immediately creates a less formal environment and patients know who they are talking to and what role that person has in the organization."


4. Update clinic rooms for increased patient comfort. Spine practices can make their clinic rooms more comfortable by easing the "sterile" environment feel and incorporating furniture that makes patients feel at home. Instead of a metallic exam table, use a wooden exam table and comfortable chairs instead of cold office chairs.


"You want people to feel like they are in their homes or restaurants," says Dr. Ty. "On one side of our clinic, we actually added ceiling and floor windows and planted foliage on the other side so when patients are waiting they feel a connection to nature. We have art in the clinic rooms and paint the walls with an aesthetically pleasing color. There isn't any white in our clinic."


5. Add a personal touch to the patient's journey through the clinic. Whenever possible, staff members and physicians should call patients by their first name and develop a connection with them. BASIC Spine assigns a staff member to work with patients throughout their care to help schedule the visit and follow up afterwards.


"They develop a one-on-one relationship with the patients," says Dr. Ty. "It's our version of concierge-type service. Even if the communication isn't directly with a physician, you can get constant contact with the office and there's a level of service a step higher than what most patients traditionally experience."


Neurosurgeon Ty Thaiyananthan is a the founder of BASIC Spine. BASIC focuses on complex and minimally-invasive spine surgery and is at the forefront of pioneering new surgical techniques using stem cells and minimally invasive surgery to treat chronic neck and back pain.


Dr. Ty earned his medical degree from UCSF, did a general surgery internship and neurosurgery residency at Yale and completed a surgery fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.


He is a reviewer for the journals Neurosurgery and World Neurosurgery as well as a member of several prestigious societies, including the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Please follow him on facebook, youtube, twitter, and google+.

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