Technology has given consumers more freedom than ever over how they make decisions, purchase services, and interact with businesses—and they take this perspective with them wherever they go, even to the hospital. Patients don’t stop being consumers as soon as they put on a hospital gown.
As the emphasis on value-based care increases competition and disrupts how people seek care, patients have more options than ever before. Today’s patients increasingly expect the same level of personalized service from healthcare institutions that they receive from industries such as hospitality, financial services and retail. They want quality care that is affordable, convenient, compassionate and efficient. If their experiences fall short of these expectations, they will be less likely to recommend your hospital to others or come back the next time they need care.
Though most hospitals lack the funds and resources to bring their facility up to speed with a luxury resort, here are five cost-effective ways hospital staff can create a 5-star experience for patients and their families that will earn their repeat business every time.
- Give them a warm welcome. Treat every patient who comes through the door with courtesy and respect. That means making eye contact, greeting them with a smile, saying hello, introducing yourself and not pushing past them in the halls or ignoring them between shifts. Do what you can to put them at ease and make them feel like they belong. Sit down to talk to them when possible instead of standing, call them by name and excuse yourself when an emergency interrupts the conversation. Help create a soothing environment free of senseless noise and chatter and don’t forget to say “thank you” to patients when appropriate. As manager of concierge services at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, Robin Parry preps for each patient by learning more about the person and getting their room set up before they arrive.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Use every interaction with patients as an opportunity to get to know them better. If you pass by someone in the halls looking lost, point them in the right direction. Ask patients about their lives and remember their stories. Listen to what they have to say without interrupting. If you are administering care to them, explain what you are doing and why it is important in terms they can easily understand. Notice when they are feeling scared or anxious and ask how you can help. Acknowledge loved ones in the room and help make them feel comfortable. Make sure family caregivers are taking time to eat and get proper rest. Clinicians often assume that practicing this kind of empathy is a mystical thing, but it’s actually very practical, Parry says. “When you lead with your heart, you’re always thinking about how you can connect with people,” she says. “When you bring that approach to every interaction you have, the outcomes can be phenomenal.”
- Help them with questions and concerns. Be prompt about answering questions and responding to concerns from patients or their loved ones. Never say, “I can’t help you—I’m the wrong person.” If you can’t help, say “I’m finding someone right now who can address this for you.” When a patient complains, hear them out and resist the urge to defend yourself or shift the blame. Even when you don’t agree, validate their feelings and ask what you can do to improve their experience. Never tell a patient they are wrong or argue with them, but listen politely and gently explain why their point of view might not be correct. Role-playing can be a great way to prepare for these situations before they arise or train your staff on how to handle them. When discussing care instructions or decisions with patients, make sure their loved ones are present and include them in the conversations as well. Give them the feedback they need to feel informed and supported.
- Make promises you can keep. It’s important to reassure patients, but avoid making emphatic statements about things that may be beyond your control. Don’t say things like “You’ll be fine” or “You’ll get the best care here” without knowing for sure that you can back those up. If you tell a patient you’ll be back to check on them, send someone else if you can’t make it back to their room as quickly as you hoped. If the meal you ordered for them is delayed, update them on the backup in food services. If you promise to share a celebratory cup of grape juice with them after they get through their surgery, show up—even if your shift is over—or ask the night nurse to do it in your place. When you can’t keep the promises you make to patients, own up to it. They will appreciate your honesty and likely cut you some slack.
- Stay on mission. Don’t let the hustle and bustle and often hectic pace of the hospital setting overshadow your mission of caring for physical and emotional needs of patients. Strive to meet your day-to-day responsibilities, but never lose sight of the purpose or the people behind them. How you treat patients reflects not only on your competence and passion for your job, but also on the hospital as a whole. Whether you are the CEO or a nurse technician, you are as responsible as anyone at your hospital for making sure patients have an excellent experience. As Joe Leggio, director of patient and customer experience at Lenox Hill Hospital, noted in this U.S. News & World Report article, “Healthcare is a world in which a lot of things are out of our control. One thing in our control is how we make people feel.”