By Stephen W. Earnhart, RN, CRNA, MA

CEO, Earnhart & Associates, Austin, TX

So much of what we do at our hospital or surgery center can seem overwhelming, making it difficult to keep track of all the details. However, it is important to remember that we are in a service industry that thrives on relationships. Our primary target relationship is our surgeons. Next, our patients, followed equally by patients’ friends and family and our own staff.

It is easy to forget who we serve, but it is always important to be reminded. While we often (perhaps subconsciously, anyway) think of ourselves as a higher service provider, we really share the same retail markets as a Walmart or McDonald’s. Consider that retail business is defined as the activity of selling goods or services directly to consumers or end users. This might be a rude awakening, but it is shockingly true.

What do other service industries provide to their consumers? Probably more than what most of us provide. The greatest benefits might be job security, full-time employment, retirement plans, and full benefits that make it tough for many facilities to compete. Typically, our education and training requirements are higher; ergo, higher pay. But our hours are not all that attractive for most. We might get an employee discount, but it involves surgery. Like most things in life, it is the little things that make a difference to all of us in healthcare and retail.

Over the years, I have made a list of things I have done, heard of, seen others do, thought of, or dreamed of. I am sure you could add other items to the list below. The following are gestures that really can enhance and promote great customer service and will set you apart from others. These suggestions are of a personal and not business nature; however, you are a part of the business with which you work and it will, at the same time, promote a better image of your facility.

For me, this is the oldest I have ever been; yet, it is the youngest I will ever be. I am going to try to make every day count and try to follow as many of these “little things” as I can:

  • Smile to everyone you make eye contact with;
  • Remember birthdays and special events for those close to you;
  • Acknowledge feedback from others, good or bad;
  • Hold eye contact for an extra second or two — you will feel the bond;
  • Say “thank you,” followed by the person’s first name when possible;
  • If you shake hands with someone, place your other hand on top of theirs for just a second;
  • “Please” remains the best way to start or end a request;
  • Only offer constructive criticism and only if really necessary;
  • Show respect to everyone;
  • Be extra helpful to older patients. Many are hard of hearing, will hide it, and be overwhelmed because they did not understand what you said;
  • Remember that our facilities are scary to patients — most patients think they are going to die. A simple touch of your hand and telling them it will be fine is human compassion;
  • Listen when someone is speaking to you — do not rush them unless it is absolutely necessary;
  • Ask someone something — nothing makes us feel special when someone asks our opinion;
  • Find something to compliment — a jacket, or watch, or anything;
  • Train your staff properly so they understand everything about your center and can respond to any question;
  • Never say “no” to a staff member, surgeon, patient, or anyone — there are many other ways to respond;
  • As always, follow the Golden Rule — do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.

(Earnhart & Associates is a consulting firm specializing in all aspects of outpatient surgery development and management. Earnhart & Associates can be reached at 5114 Balcones Woods Drive, Suite 307-203, Austin, TX 78759. Phone: (512) 297-7575. Fax: (512) 233-2979. Email: Web: