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By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
President and CEO
Earnhart & Associates, Dallas
As if there isn’t enough that we need to worry about in this industry, up pops responding to our patients’ needs. Isn’t it enough that we ensure our facilities are adequately staffed with highly trained personnel? Don’t we get any credit for our quality-of-care programs that make sure our patient’s safety is constantly in the forefront? I mean, really. By the time you make sure your costs are in line, the surgeons are happy, your staff are properly motivated, and you are in compliance with just under 1,000 regulations — up pops the patient!
We really do need to go the extra mile for our patients, and for the most part we do. It is just that we are so busy with other issues and distractions that we tend to lose site of the real reason why we are in business and employed: to take care of the patient with a cataract or hernia or bunion. Some of these patients are old and walk slow and don’t understand half of what we are telling them. Others complain about everything we do for them (because they are scared!). It is so easy to get impatient with them and tune them out. I know that I am guilty of that sometimes myself.
Here’s a good example. We were designing a new center a couple of months ago, and the architect was explaining how we could "cram" 10 more chairs into the waiting room to accommodate the needs of the center and not have to expand the waiting room. This process, she explained, would allow more room in the medical records office. Sad thing is we all agreed to it! I thought later about how that is the same concept the airlines used when they "cram" more seats in a plane for more revenue at the expense of customer comfort.
We all have our own stories about lack of customer service in every industry, but let’s try to minimize our own. What can we do to maintain the customer service we really do want in our industry? Well, I have a few ideas that you might try:
1. Designate one staff member to be a patient advocate. In addition to other duties, it is that person’s job to try to identify ways, via talking to patients in the waiting area, family members, spouses, etc., about how their entire experience could have been enhanced during their visit to your center.
This is not one of those tasks you should give to someone you don’t like (as I usually recommend), but rather someone who has an affinity for patient satisfaction. Have the advocate submit any suggestions, in writing, to the management of your facility weekly or PRN. Don’t wait a week for something that should be done immediately.
2. Post a sign in your waiting room that says, "We are here to help you — please ask us anything you do not understand." Or, put a sign on the counter that says, "Ask me!" These signs let the patients or their family know that you are receptive to their concerns.
3. Contact your local volunteer office or local chamber of commerce, which should have a list of volunteer groups, to find people to "work" your waiting room — especially on heavy days. These retired individuals are great at being a helping hand to patients and their families. They will ask questions of your staff that the patient might be too embarrassed to ask, serve drinks to visitors (I know, you have to train them), get magazines, and help keep the waiting room tidy. They can be like everyone’s favorite grandparent. There is no cost, and they love what they do.
There are many others ideas that you can try, but give these a chance. Life is much easier when your patients’ needs are met.