As one of America’s “baby boomers”, I often think about the healthcare industry’s role in meeting the medical needs of this group of citizens. Current statistics indicate that this group represents 26% of the U.S. population. As much as we don’t like to think about it, health issues are more likely to arise as we begin to age. The healthcare industry faces a daunting task when you think about providing services to such a large section of the population. Some have said that the healthcare industry can be somewhat cold and uncaring towards its customers. This may be somewhat true, but there are examples of healthcare organizations providing great patient service. I believe that applying the basic principles of customer service when servicing patients (customers) can make for a great patient experience.
Utilize Common Courtesy – Exhibiting common courtesy – acknowledging the patient’s presence, making eye contact, showing empathy and exercising listening skills – will assist in making the patient feel like a human being versus just another body to push through the routine processes. During my high school days (that was a looong time ago!), I had a part-time job as a patient escort at one of the major hospitals here in Houston, Tx. It was my job to transport patients to various areas of the hospital for tests or physical therapy. I found that by showing common courtesy to the patients – “How are you today Mr./Mrs Jones?”, “Here, let me help you get out of the wheelchair.” the trip was more pleasant than one filled with silence. My personal physician’s office staff oftentimes appears uncaring when I visit for a routine physical. I phoned to make an appointment and the staff member sounded as though I was an interruption. “Name”, “middle initial” “and for what reason do you need to see the doctor”. Her demeanor was somewhat hurried. One way to make sure that staff members remain conscious of their voice tone and body language is to recommend that staff members ask themselves – ” How would I like for my own family members to be treated (hopefully they love their family members!) and am I treating patients in that same manner.” It’s also very important to apologize and offer solutions very quickly in the healthcare environment. When someone or their loved one is in a state of discomfort, the last thing they want or expect is to be treated in a non-courteous manner. Be proactive by apologizing for delays before the patient confronts staff members. This is one industry where I feel overcommunication may be a good standard to implement. Common courtesy gets the relationship started off on the right foot.
Become The Patient – See your service from the patient’s point of view. The patient’s experience starts when they arrive to visit your facility. What’s their experience when attempting to park at various times during the day? One large cancer hospital located in the humongous Texas Medical Center here in Houston, Tx provides valet parking in an effort to alleviate the burden of long walks for patients arriving for treatment. Is it easy to navigate the hallways of your facility? Is the signage adequate and easy to see/read. If your facility is large, are there adequate in-house transport options available? Does the staff communicate in a way that’s understandable by the patient and or the patient’s family? How long does it take to check in? How long does it take to be seen by the doctor? Remember, an inordinate amount of wait time is a major cause of customer irritation. Now add the additional factor of a person that may be in some form of discomfort. A little more than a year ago , I had minor knee surgery. My first visit to the orthopedic surgeon’s office ran like clockwork. My appointment was at 11:00am, my experience started at 11:00am. Electronic check-in. Ushered to the exam room. Given instructions on what to do to get ready for the exam. Doctor arrives within minutes and asks lots of questions then listens to my responses. I was blown away by the experience. After the surgery, the experience continued during the rehab process. It was clear that this facility was customer oriented!
Create The Proper Environment – The healthcare industry is somewhat stereotyped as cold, sterile and aloof – not very patient friendly. While this is certainly not true of all service provider facilities, that’s the general perception. Incorporate patient friendly aesthetics such as adequate/soft lighting, eye-pleasing wall paint or coverings and perhaps even a soft buzz of music. If you chose to utilize televisions in the waiting areas of your office or facility, give the patients a few channel options versus just the one showing the same healthy living promotions over and over and over! The goal is for the patient to be comfortable in your environment.
Teamwork is the Key – Your patients deserve consistent treatment in every area of your office or facility. Get everyone involved in understanding the necessity of the patient experiencing excellent customer service. Provide opportunities for staff to look at the internal processes in an effort to create a smooth service flow for both the patients and themselves. Encourage in-house courtesy among the staff. As most of you know, I’m all for leaders; in this case head nurses, departmental managers, etc. to spend time performing the duties of those whom you manage. This is an invaluable exercise when attempting to provide the best possible service to the patients and to create the best work environment. For example, in the hospital environment, food service departmental leaders should serve patient meals to gain knowledge about this process. Head nurses should perform routine duties alongside those whom they manage in order to stay abreast of what’s actually happening in their area of responsibility. Every department should practice this exercise on a regular basis as it’s good for morale which eventually flows out to the patient. Encourage and reward suggestions for improvement.
Healthcare is a vital industry – very necessary in providing the proper care for those with illnesses or those in need of regular checkups. Try not to lose sight of the fact that patients are customers. Even more important, they’re people. Examine your office or facility in search of opportunities to provide the best possible patient experience.