What makes the difference between a good nutrition professional and a great one? Is it the extra care, the extra effort, the use of modern gadgets or therapies, a cool office or an undeniable online popularity? Well, it could be some or all of these, but there is one factor that we think weighs a lot more: truly listening to patients—obtaining feedback from them and using it to improve services, approach, motivate others and more.

What does patient feedback mean? Feedback usually represents a person’s view on products or services and it can also include the before/after photos that show progress in weight loss—how lifestyle changes imposed by a nutrition program are impacting a patient physically. It is basically a reflection of your work on the patient. While it may be a bit easier to gather opinions on services, it may be a tad more difficult to convince patients to provide actual feedback on their progress and even more complicated to obtain their approval to publicize the images and the numbers associated to weight loss. We will touch on both types of feedback in the paragraphs below.

How to get feedback from patients

First of all, it’s important to know how to get closer to your patients. The best way to get meaningful feedback is by interviewing patients, having a face-to-face friendly chat about their experience so far. It’s important that you are open and honest to get your patients to do the same. Taking a couple of notes on what they are telling you should be enough and shouldn’t take too much time. You can also consider other ways to interact and gather feedback such as polls on social media or several types of surveys. Personally, we feel that surveys are a bit old-fashioned, but if you find a creative way to present them to your patients, they can provide valuable information.

If you are considering a survey, make sure to include open questions (questions that don’t require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer), that allow more elaborate responses and invite the patient to state his/her opinion. Make sure this doesn’t take too much of the patient’s time. Keep things short and refer strictly to things that are related to your practice as a nutritionist or registered dietitian. Polls are even more impersonal and could be a bit inaccurate. Plus, you don’t get to include too many things in a poll. Still, they might prove useful when you have just one thing you want to know and you need responses quickly. Usually, polls are posted online, mostly on social media.

How to motivate them to offer feedback

Before you start asking questions, make sure the patient understands why you are asking for feedback and that somewhere in the near future he/she will be able to see the results of this evaluation process in improved services. Explain that that the feedback you get from them can help other people and that it’s a simple way to motivate people to change their lives, without too much effort.

Usually, the before/after photos are most impactful for others who are considering a lifestyle change to improve health. While it can prove challenging to obtain such pictures from patients, surely you will find a few that will be thrilled at the idea to take pride in their results and, at the same time, help others make a step in the right direction. You could post regular updates on how feedback from patients has helped others decide to improve their eating habits and start living a healthier life.

If that doesn’t work, you could also provide a reward. This can be a discount for future consultations, free meal plans, free gym passes (if you partner with such facilities or if your office/clinic includes one etc.). if you are feeling extra generous, you could turn to gadgets. Wearable technology is now a modern way to build a relationship with patients and get useful information that can add to the efficiency of the treatment. Such gadgets, like fitness bracelets, can track sleep, exercise, water intake and more. All these can help to offer more customized help to patients and improve or adjust their meal plans.

How to use patients feedback

When it comes to getting valuable feedback, you need to gather opinions from as many patients as possible in order to make sure it’s relevant and that you cover as many aspects as possible. You never know what one patient might observe, maybe something that you let slip for ages. Also, you might find that most things they will come up with are easy to fix or improve. We found the case of a rehab clinic in England particularly relevant to illustrate this theory.

Centralize all results. Identify the most urgent and most important issues that need to be addressed and get to work immediately. Putting this off for too long is not constructive. You don’t have to fix everything at once. Make a plan and take things step by step.

We also discussed the before and after photos. You can post these images regularly on your website or on social media with a few details on the case. Make sure the description includes details that are relevant for other potential patients.

Presenting the results

In order to make this feedback process complete, after you gather views, improve services and make the changes needed, it would be great to close the circle by making these upgrades public—let patients know how you used their feedback. There are several ways to do this. If it’s a patient who is still going to come in for a longer period of time, you can present the results personally, at the beginning/end of a consultation, check-up session. If the feedback results are of interest for the general public or you see fit to use these for marketing purposes, make use of social media or the clinic’s/office’s website.

We even heard of cases where patients were informed on what processes are being improved through a display in the reception area. TVs are still common in waiting rooms, so why not put them to good use and show content that is related to the office, successful cases with before and after pictures, short testimonials (written—quotes or, ideally, video) or even a few general tips that patients might use. Don’t forget about graphics, videos and other forms of media that can make the communication attractive, interesting (for this one, it’s more about content rather than presentation, so make sure you have great data, research or info to add) and efficient.

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