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By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
President and CEO
Earnhart & Associates, Dallas
The operating room environment can be such a scary place of business to our patients. Full of the unknown. Strange smells and people walking around with masks — ugh! We, the staff, are used to it for the most part, but we are there every day and have become sensitized to it. It’s not so for our patients and their families.
Patients and staff want a professional, yet happy upbeat environment. It is tough to "spin" having surgery into a "good thing" to patients. But there are ways that we can make our workplace and patient setting a more enjoyable and less frightening place of business. This column offers inexpensive suggestions to do just that.
• Photographs of staff.
A very easy way to immediately put your patients at ease is to have all the members of your staff introduce themselves, let the patients and visitors know who they are and what they do at the center, and give them a great big smile. Wouldn’t that take away much of the apprehension of who is behind the mask and what is going on behind those doors? Unfortunately, that is not practical to do all at once. But you can get the same effect with an inexpensive digital camera and color printer.
Using the same background, take a individual picture of each member of your staff. (Force them to smile.) Print an 8 by 10 of the photo, put it in an inexpensive frame, and mount it on the wall in the waiting area. Put the staff members’ first name and title underneath the picture. The staff should be in their normal operating room attire, i.e. office staff in street clothes, nurses in scrubs, etc., for the picture. You can bunch the pictures together or spread them around the room. Print a legend, and post it with a brief description of the title underneath the picture so the patients and family members know what "scrub techs" are and the job they do at the facility.
Make sure you keep it up to date with new staff as they come on board. The staff name tags need to mirror what is at the bottom of their picture.
Cost? The camera will cost under $300 and can be used over and over. The printer is $198, and the photography paper is $15 for 20 sheets. The frames can be inexpensive as well. I started doing these pictures 18 years ago, and they continue to receive the most positive comments on patient satisfaction replies. You can afford it.
Operating room environments have an odor. You cannot smell it because you have grown accustomed to it, but trust me, it is there. I smell it in every center and department I visit. Ideally, a fragrant candle burning can mask the smell, but that’s probably not a good idea in a crowded waiting room. Consider placing those scented plugs in the wall sockets to add a better aroma. Avoid heavy floral smells, as they can be overpowering. Vanilla is always a good choice. Cost is $1.49 a plug.
It is probably me, but I am tired of seeing the same pictures of flowers in every waiting room I visit. Do we all buy these pictures from the same vendor? Consider the more inspirational type of posters that have a cool mountain climber going up a rocky cliff with a caption such as, "The climb is rough . . . yadda, yadda, yadda." They are more expensive at about $29 per poster.
It is time to throw away those 1993 National Geographics. They do not become more valuable with time. Lighten the room up with more contemporary magazines! Cost is about $12 per year for each subscription.
• Lab coats.
Let’s toss those dingy yellowish lab coats for a brighter shade of white, OK? Better yet, get a new color completely! Go crazy on color. (Avoid red and yellow, please — the colors of body fluids.) Cost is about $24 per coat.
• Dress code.
I know we are much more informal in what we can wear to work nowadays, but it might be time to make the office environment a bit more professional. I really do not need to see Mary’s tattoo on her chest or count freckles on someone’s thigh through skintight clothing when I’m checking in. This is a place of business and not personal expression. Cost? I have absolutely no idea!
(Editor’s note: Earnhart and Associates is an ambulatory surgery consulting firm specializing in all aspects of surgery center development and management. Earnhart can be reached at 5905 Tree Shadow Place, Suite 1200, Dallas, TX 75252. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.earnhart.com.)