The next 12 months will be more challenging for healthcare organizations than any other period in history. The impending changes brought about by healthcare reform will provide access to care to millions of Americans who previously didn’t have it. This increase in patient volume and demand for services appears poised to strike at the same time that healthcare organizations are struggling with recruiting challenges, staffing shortages, and reduced revenues. It seems unlikely, at most sites, to expect an expansion of support equal to the increased demand. It’s not over-reaching to state that the burden on front line personnel and their managers will be like none they’ve seen before. Now more than ever healthcare leaders need to step-up their efforts to teach their teams how to attend to the single most influential factor in the patient experience:
They need to teach them how to be nice.
The increase in volume and demand has the potential to significantly affect the patient experience. Will patients experience longer wait times? Will they be forced to see an advanced practice provider when requesting a physician? Will their access to appointment slots be limited beyond what they are used to? The answers to these questions will differ from site to site, but the potential exists for patients to experience a host of frustrations on top of the already intense emotions that come with being ill or injured. Every contact point in a healthcare organization is an opportunity for that frustration to boil over.
Or it’s an opportunity to stand out.
Like it or not, patients evaluate their experiences based almost entirely on the quality of one-on-one interactions they have across their visit. When patients encounter genuine caring- about their comfort, their time, their well-being, their individual circumstances-they quickly declare their approval. When they perceive these qualities are absent, they get angry, some get disruptive, and satisfaction scores plummet.
Put another way: Nice matters.
It’s imperative that healthcare organizations invest in ongoing training and reinforcement for patient facing personnel and their managers that focuses on, for lack of any other accurately succinct terms, how to “be nice.” While the concept may seem patronizingly obvious, the execution, in many healthcare settings, is lacking.
The healthcare organizations that flourish in the new normal will be those that take what have long been intangible qualities – warmth, kindness, “bedside manner”, all of which are related to demeanor and affect – and translate them into specific, repeatable behaviors. These organizations will shift the burden for the service engagement aspects of health-care delivery equally to ALL personnel while simultaneously lowering their tolerance for bad provider behavior. Their HR teams will find ways to identify and hire those with the magical combination of empathy and resilience, for they are the ones with the capacity to look past challenging patient behaviors and attend to the intense emotions that patients experience. Their clinical leaders will eschew physicians that prefer a detached, analytical approach to medicine that focuses on pathology, physiology, and treatment leaving the burden of caring for “the whole patient” solely to nurses and patient-facing personnel. These organizations will work to give front-line and mid-level managers the people management skills they need to build thriving work environments where staff are firing on all cylinders. And perhaps most importantly, they will expose their teams constantly to development in areas such as emotional intelligence, negotiation, conflict resolution, and service recovery.
Nice matters. Saavy healthcare leaders know it and those that zero in on it are setting themselves up to successfully navigate an extended season of tumult and come out on the other end with more patients, higher ratings, and a healthy balance sheet.
[What do YOU think? Share your thoughts in the comments box below!]