Service recovery is no foreign concept to the business world. It is a fundamental practice that can turn a negative situation into a positive statement about a company. Simply put, it is the process of making things right after something has gone wrong with the consumer’s experience. You see this common occurrence in retail, restaurants, and even airlines. Yet how can we adopt service recovery in healthcare?
Let’s face it, we’re not perfect. We fail to meet our patients’ expectations in numerous ways: excessive wait times, appointment scheduling problems, room/environment issues, miscommunication, and the list goes on. In the food service world, if I go out to dinner and a steak is not prepared the way I ordered it, the restaurant would probably remove the entrée from my bill. In healthcare, can we give a free prescription because a patient had to wait, or provide a coupon for a lab draw if the patient requires multiple needle sticks? Probably not.
In order to curb bad public relations since dissatisfied customers tend to tell others about their negative experiences, we’ve had to get a bit creative in healthcare. We know that the basis of all our interactions is communication; therefore, our service recovery program is grounded in the way we communicate during a complaint. We developed the acronym GIFT:
- Gather – Listen to the individual’s concern and validate their feelings
- I’m sorry – Offer a genuine apology for not meeting their expectations
- Feedback – Explain what you plan to do and follow up
- Thank – Thank them for sharing their concerns
These four simple steps provide a mental pathway as you’re attempting to diffuse a complaint. At UPMC Pinnacle Hanover, we carefully incorporated the Heart-Head-Heart communication method, which we adopted from the Language of Caring philosophy. By offering a blameless apology, we express ownership yet not necessarily assume fault. We involved our Patient/Family Advisory Council in the creation of this program, and they advised us that a genuine apology is the most critical element. The goal is to allow the complainant to feel heard, validated, and respected.
While most concerns can be resolved simply with proper communication, there are instances when it might be beneficial to offer something “extra” such as a gift card or other small token. CMS guidelines state that a service recovery item presented to a patient cannot exceed $10 per person or $50 in an aggregate year. (This is also under Department of Health and Human Services - OIG Advisory Opinion No. 08-07.) If a department chooses to obtain a supply of gift cards to various local vendors (restaurants, gas stations, etc.), they track them using our internal reporting system. Reports can be run, by patient, on a monthly basis to ensure that we are compliant.
One of the most important elements of this entire program is empowerment. Rather than only allowing a department head to resolve concerns, which could happen after a patient has already left the facility, we wanted to educate and empower each employee to utilize service recovery. By immediately responding to concerns and complaints we can create loyalty with our “customers.” We can create a learning culture that treats complaints as gifts, or opportunities for improvement, that steers away from a negative connotation to something more positive and patient-centered.
When an issue is identified and addressed before the patient is discharged, theoretically it will also help to reduce the number of formal grievances we receive. Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantitatively prove that our service recovery program has confidently reduced our number of formal grievances. However, we do know that there has been a shift in our culture and employees feel empowered to take ownership to provide quick and decisive action when something has gone wrong. And at the end of the day, that’s a win.
Rhonda Ramos is the Patient Experience Manager for UPMC Pinnacle Hanover and has worked for the organization for ten years. She is fluent in Spanish and started her career in healthcare as an interpreter and patient advocate. Rhonda grew up in Ellicott City, MD and currently resides in Hanover, PA with her husband and two children, ages 3 years and 6 months.