Listen closely to what patients are telling you

Don't miss valuable information

If a patient takes the time to complain about your patient access department or to give a compliment, listen closely.

While Press-Ganey surveys track scores for helpfulness, ease of the registration process, and wait times on a monthly basis, personal remarks can be the most helpful, says Patti Burchett, director of registration and central scheduling at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, MI.

"The great thing about the survey is that we also get comments back. It is not just a score," she says. "Many times, the comments are much more valuable than just a raw number."

One patient commented on the use of pagers, which are given to patients by greeters in outpatient registration areas when it's time for them to go back for their test. These aren't available on weekends due to lower patient volume, and a frustrated patient reported having to wait longer as a result, says Burchett.

"We are looking into how that can be added on the weekend, so patients will have less time standing in line," she says.

Occasionally, a patient gives a compliment without identifying an employee by name. "We can trace that back, using dates of services, to identify when the comment came through and who was working that day," says Burchett. "It may take some digging, but we can figure out who the staff person was."

Burchett says she makes this effort because "we take customer service very seriously here. This is a very high-level strategic initiative for us. We want our staff to know that they will be recognized when they go above and beyond."

Use standard process

If a patient complains about the way a call was handled, or claims that misinformation was given, the department manager listens to the call to see what actually was said, says Burchett. Regardless of whether the patient is correct, Burchett says her staff members follow the "Three As," of Acknowledge, Apologize, and Amend.

If a patient complained about a long wait time, for example, a registrar might say, "I can see you've had a long wait. I apologize for your inconvenience. What can I do to best help you now?"

"We have a standard process to handle complaints, whether they are founded or not," says Burchett. Employees also listen to the phone call and answer the question, "How can we do this better next time?"

Connie Campbell, director of patient access of Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, WI, places pads of paper in registration areas stating, "Your voice is important to us," with postage-paid envelopes attached. "We receive both compliments and complaints," says Campbell. "People say what is on their mind, which is the whole aim."

Each month, Campbell sends the comments directly to department managers, such as a recent comment from a family member who wanted to be more updated on estimated wait times for patients in surgery. "I then write up the action plan they gave. It goes out to the CEO and our whole management team, so they know what patients are stating about the 'front doors' and their experience with us," she says.

Comments can be as simple as someone writing, "This was a very pleasant experience," says Campbell. "Once, they stated, 'Your hallways are so long. Can you add in some park benches? So we did," she says.