You know that the real reason a patient had to wait an hour at registration is because the provider’s office didn’t send the order when they were supposed to. That reason makes no difference to the patient, however.
“Never blame another department, because truly, people see it as one organization,” warns Jennifer Bradley, director of patient relations at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. “Patients do not necessarily separate out the nurse who put in their IV from the person who parked their car from the person who registered them.”
Instead of fingerpointing, let the clinical area managers know about the problem so they can address it. “Tell them about the feedback you are getting,” recommends Bradley. “Ask them, ‘How would you like me to respond?’”
Good communication between patient access and clinical areas can head off patient complaints. Recently, one of the health system’s clinics had several providers leave the practice and, therefore, suddenly had fewer appointments available. Anticipating patient complaints, members of the clinic staff alerted registration staff members about the problem, and they also informed them that new providers were being hired. “So we were all saying the same thing to patients,” says Bradley. She gives these other strategies to improve patient satisfaction in registration areas:
If patients are unhappy for any reason, have registrars ask, “How can I best help you today?”
Sometimes patients complain about many things that went wrong during a hospital visit. “This question helps patients to focus on what we can do to help them today,” says Bradley.
Registrars always can say, “I’m so sorry for your experience.” “But don’t make promises you can’t keep,” says Bradley. “It’s a mistake to overpromise and underdeliver.” Registrars might offer to take care of the patient’s parking fee, for example, but promising them an immediate appointment with a provider might not be possible.
Remember that patients sometimes simply want someone to listen to their concern.
“If a patient has a whole list of problems, you might wonder, ‘How the heck am I going to solve all that?’” Bradley says. “It’s OK not to have all the answers.”
Sometimes patients just want assurance that their concerns were heard by the right person. “Once you’ve assured them they will share the information with the appropriate people, this is often all they wanted. Patients don’t always want follow-up,” says Bradley.
Tell patients the reason why information is asked for multiple times.
A common patient complaint was “Why do I have to give my name and date and birth over and over again?” Similarly, when patient access staff members at clinics asked about allergies or the name of the patient’s pharmacy, or verified patients’ medications, patients often became frustrated and said, “I just need to see the doctor.”
“Patients see those questions as a barrier to them getting to the clinician,” Bradley explains. She recommends telling patients the reason upfront.
Virginia Mason’s registrars use this scripting, “We are going to ask you for this information every time you meet somebody new throughout your visit today, and I want to explain why. This is going to set you up for a great visit, because we will make sure your provider has an accurate current history.”
‘Reading your audience’
Make patients feel welcome.
Bradley calls this “reading your audience.”
“Some retailers do that very well. In healthcare, we are getting better at it,” she says.
Patient access staff members tailor their greeting to the patient standing in front of them. If patients look like they can help themselves, staff offer less detailed information. “If they look sad, you don’t want to greet them with a bright, cheery hello,” says Bradley.
While patients can become frustrated with the registration process, the opposite effect also occurs.
“People get quite attached [to registrars], with some saying, ‘I always call this person because they always help me,’” says Bradley. “Sometimes that connection is even more important to them than the provider.”