Recently, we worked with a practice that was spending several minutes on the phone — sometimes ten minutes or even more — giving verbal driving directions to all of its new patients. Yikes!

The practice did it for two reasons.  First, they believed that patients were frequently getting lost when relying on directions from the web — and that this was causing patients to miss appointments or arrive very late; consequently, they thought the time investment was worthwhile to prevent these problems. Second, they believed that patients valued this “personal touch.”

Of course, there are numerous costs associated with spending so much time with each patient on a matter that really should be more automated.  Most immediately noticeable to us was the receptionists’ reluctance to interrupt the lengthy process of giving directions to pick up other incoming calls, so other patients — perhaps patients with urgent needs — were frustrated in their attempts to reach the practice.  Voicemail piled up — and, quite possibly, prospective patients may just have dialed the next practice on their list of referrals.

The practice’s assumption about the ‘personal touch’ was also problematic — they genuinely believed people valued this extra time with a ‘real human,’ but, really, who wants to stay on the phone ten minutes or more, jotting directions that will have to be read while driving?  This is ‘service’ circa 1985 at best!  Worst of all, some of the patients who were familiar with the area might even have been a little insulted at the implication that they could not find the address without spoon-fed directions.

Unfortunately, problems with mapping sites and GPS systems giving inaccurate directions to your practice are not terribly uncommon — especially if you’re located in a new office park or other location on new street.  Some street names are also prone to more user error — for example, here in San Francisco, problems when people confuse “street” for “avenue” are legendary; a location on 4th Street could be a 30-minute drive from the same address on 4th Avenue at some times of the day.  But, even though your location might be more prone than others to these problems, there are better ways to handle the challenge than committing hours of staff time to giving verbal directions — and annoying patients in the process.  Here are some ideas:

  1.  Oftentimes, only one or two of the available mapping resources give incorrect directions, while the others get it right.  If you know for sure that, say, Google Maps and Yahoo Maps give proper directions to your location, urge people to use those resources when they book their appointments.
  2. Email new patients directions — a standard document along with new patient forms for them to complete before their initial visit.  Kill two birds with one stone, plus collect emails for future contact (don’t forget to get permission).
  3. Use your website to spotlight issues that could make getting lost likely — e.g., if you’re on the border of another town and that’s causing the confusion, be sure to make note of that on your website’s ‘directions’ page, or if “North” or “West” is required for accuracy, note that.  And put an accurate map/directions on that page, too.
  4. If special modifiers like “North” or “South” must be added to your street address (or city name), don’t forget to check that it’s clear in your addresses in all payer directories and online listings in addition to being prominently noted on your own website.
  5. If the mapping error seems odd and fixable — e.g., your street is not properly included or a strange route is recommended — contact the site(s) — e.g., these links for  Google , Yahoo , MapQuest will reach their “submit error pages,” and you can also report errors to the main GPS map resources, Navteq and Tele Atlas, to help ensure people can find you using their cars’ navigation devices.


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