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You Had Me at Hello: The Importance of the First Greeting in the Patient Experience

Posted By Terri Ipsen, CPXP, Thursday, February 1, 2018
Updated: Monday, January 22, 2018

The greeting. Such a small thing, but a wide lens to what a patient’s experience might be like during a visit to the doctor. At The Beryl Institute, our definition of experience includes “the sum of all interactions”; so getting this first step right – greeting the patient – is critical to influencing the patient’s perception and expectations about the care they will receive.

As Hurricane Irma was blasting through my home state of Florida, I was experiencing a physical “natural disaster" of my own: a herniated disc in my back that had trapped the nerve in my left leg, leaving me almost incapacitated. Getting immediate treatment for the pain from my regular doctor was impossible, as the storm had forced her to evacuate. To delay finding relief from my excruciating pain was not an option, so with the help of a friend, I was fortunate to get an emergency appointment with a spine specialist in another town. And this is where my story about first greetings begins.

The long 45-minute drive to the specialist was horrendous; my daughter was my driver as I laid flat in the back seat. Upon arrival, I shuffled into the medical office. Grimacing, I slowly approached the reception desk.  Before my name could even pass my lips, harsh words came flying at me from the other side of the glass window.

Do you have an appointment?” I thought to myself: Seriously? That is the most important question to ask me at this moment? I hobble through your front door, contorted with pain, and you are concerned about whether I have an appointment? The person on the other side of the window clearly was not focused on me, the patient, but rather the disruption that an unexpected patient would have on her day. No expression of empathy or compassion was displayed as she shoved a clipboard of papers into my hands. No assistance in finding a comfortable chair ever came. 

The poor welcoming carried over into the remainder of my visit: a 45-minute wait in reception and another 30 minutes in the exam room. There was no communication from the staff during either of these wait times – missed touch points that could have had major impact on my perception of care.

My experience in that medical office reinforces that there is still a lot of work to do in returning humanness to healthcare. The good news is that there are practices that do get it right, and this is where my story continues. The following week I visited a surgery center for a spinal injection. The greeting I received there was so different from my experience at the doctor’s office. Still in pain, I shuffled up to the front door. There, three nurses rushed outside and greeted me. One took my hand and acknowledged the pain in my eyes, “Looks like you need some help here. Let’s get you a wheelchair. We’re going to take good care of you.”  I felt I had arrived in heaven.

The receptionist was equally compassionate. Instead of giving me a clipboard of papers to fill out on my own, she left her desk and sat next to me in my wheelchair. She asked me the questions and completed the paperwork on my behalf. This provider got it right. The surgery center had built a culture of excellence based on empathy and compassion which was evident at every touch point of my visit. Imagine how healthcare could be changed if all providers embraced such a philosophy!

Frontline staff speaks volumes to the culture of healthcare organizations. A greeting that includes a smile and a courteous acknowledgement of a patient’s needs sets the scene for a good experience and, more importantly, customer loyalty. It made all the difference for me. Thank you, surgery center, for a great patient experience. You, indeed, had me at hello.

 

Terri Ipsen, CPXP
Executive Assistant
The Beryl Institute

Tags:  communication  compassion  empathy  first impressions  organizational culture  patient experience 

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At the Heart of Patient Experience is Caring for Those Who Care: A Call to Action for Those in Need

Posted By Jason A. Wolf, PhD, CPXP, Thursday, September 7, 2017

For the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit two amazing healthcare institutions in São Paulo, Brazil – Hospital Sírio Libanêse and Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein – and meet healthcare leaders from across Latin America committed to improving patient experience. While there I had the unique experience of watching the approach of and resulting impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas and Louisiana from outside the United States. As was evident in every report, the challenge this storm posed for the communities it impacted, their infrastructure and their healthcare organizations placed a significant strain on the system and created great need.

As we have seen in patient experience efforts around the globe, a central priority has emerged, one focused on taking care of not just those we serve in healthcare, but the people serving as well. This idea of caring for our team and staff in healthcare, of ensuring the engagement and care of our employees, was in fact the fastest growing point of focus in supporting patient experience success in The State of Patient Experience 2017. It is clear that taking care of those who give of themselves in healthcare is something we cannot and should not take lightly. This is no more relevant than at this moment in cities such as Houston, TX in the aftermath of Harvey (and now for those in the path of Hurricane Irma).

For all that healthcare organizations have done to support the needs of their communities impacted by Harvey, they too have been literally underwater. With many instances of organizations with disrupted and/or discontinued services, these organizations have stretched their capacity to care for the communities they serve. Yet, what we must realize is that those providing care are not only caregivers, they are the affected themselves. They too may be displaced by flooding or damage, their families impacted and their lives disrupted, yet they have remained steadfast in their efforts to care for those in need.

It is in times like this where the need to care for those who provide care is impossible to miss. It also reinforces that we cannot and should not overlook this need any day in which we are looking to provide the best in care for our communities, for the best in care starts with taking care of our own people. And this critical time calls on not just the organizations impacted to step up, but truly all of us with the means and/or desire to help to do the same.

Our colleagues at ACHE last week called for the support of an effort at the Texas Hospital Association, which has established the THA Hospital Employee Assistance Fund to help hospital employees who experienced significant property loss or damage due to Hurricane Harvey. There are also still significant needs for all those impacted by this event that can be supported via the American Red Cross and numerous other charitable opportunities.

These needs and the opportunities to help are now being elevated by the latest storm, Irma. With her eye already impacting many and set at one of the busiest hubs of healthcare activity in the United States, the need to care for one another and our call to take care of others is only further reinforced. This is not a time to sit idly by, but rather recognize that whether in the path of a literal storm or in the dynamic and chaotic environment that healthcare globally presents, we must never overlook the opportunity to care for those who care.

In the industry of caring for others that healthcare represents and the profession of patient experience that is emerging at its core, we must not forget that our primary means of delivering on our purpose, promise and commitments is through the very people who give of themselves every day to care for others. It is in times like this that we all must step up to care for and support them.

I invite you to join us in this effort, to support the affected members of our community and all those in need. For in healthcare, where we are human beings caring for human beings, and with an unwavering commitment to the human experience in healthcare (and beyond), we are called to act and help those in our communities who need us. There may be no greater purpose in our work, and no greater effort in ensuring we maintain the best in experience for all we care for and serve. Thank you for joining us in this effort as our deepest thoughts and warmest wishes go to all impacted by Harvey and those preparing for the arrival of Irma.

The following links will allow you to learn more about and contribute to the following causes and I invite you to share other means of support for these efforts via the comments section below:

THA Hospital Employee Assistance Fund

 American Red Cross

 

Jason A. Wolf, PhD, CPXP 
President 
The Beryl Institute

Tags:  community  compassion  compassionate care  employee engagement  houston  hurricane harvey  hurricane relief 

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Silence: The Invisible Tool for Patient Experience Excellence

Posted By Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I must start my comments with a disclaimer that this blog is not about noise reduction, though I still have yet to find an organization that has conquered this great challenge in healthcare today. In fact our own research at The Beryl Institute continues to show noise reduction to be a leading area of focus, public survey results continue to highlight it as a challenge and a simple walk around most healthcare facilities reinforces the opportunity this issue represents.

Interesting enough was that in our own work on the issue of noise and hearing from recognized efforts in the field of healthcare acoustics that we will never and in actually should never strive for perfect silence. Not only would it be unachievable, it would not meet the true needs of so many in our care. Rather what I mean by silence as we look to patient experience excellence is a much different idea. I wish to frame this not as a negative – i.e., the result of suppressing noise, but rather in the appreciative, as the art of creating a space in which we can hear.

I spent the last week traveling the halls of healthcare organizations and was warmed by the buzz of humanity, and embraced by the rhythmic symphony of conversations and footsteps, beeps and clicks all symbolizing the living nature of healthcare. But what was most moving and perhaps most powerful was a lesson hiding invisibly in front of all us in healthcare trying to have a positive impact…it was those subtle moments between the beats that have incredible power.

In providing a sense of silence for those we work with, care for and serve we create a space for their voices to be heard, their ideas to find opportunities to grow. In affording the gift of silence – that is the space of silence – we enable people to feel acknowledged and listened too. Yet we must also admit that of all places healthcare may be the hardest place to provide this space of silence.

What I mean by this is our ability to be with someone so they can express themselves, providing time to think and reply, to open our eyes or inform us even in the face of the great expertise so many bring in this work. In the space of silence we do more to offer a sense of dignity and respect, of care, compassion, and commitment than we almost ever do in providing a monologue pertaining to our expertise. There is a time and a place for that as well.

In a world where speed so often matters and chaos is the foundation of normality, the ability to sit with someone and allow them to be heard is profound. So how can we proceed in this way for better outcomes in all we do? It may be the most simple, yet difficult concept I have yet proposed in tacking patient experience opportunities. Yet I see it over and over, when we take the time to listen for needs, understand pains, work to connect with the human standing across from us that most of all wants to be heard, great things can and do happen.

As an extrovert I am guilty of violating this trust more often that I would like to admit, so I feel comfortable challenging us all in how we can proceed. How often do we provide the space for a reply, invite a comment or simply choose to be with someone by sitting at their bedside, holding their hand. Words at times do more to create our noise problems than anything else. More so we hear from many that in their attempt to be heard we in healthcare often miss their voices…our lack of silence being the very liability we look to avoid.

This was no more apparent to me than in the moving story shared by a brave colleague Tanya Lord who in all she tried to raise about the care of her son in a mishandled post operative situation was simply given the typical responses and they were eventually discharged from care. In many ways to me her story, and the tragic and painful loss of her son, was a bold splash of our cold reality in healthcare. We must find the time for silence and to listen…in those moments we have the greatest chance to change, if not save, lives. We must also acknowledge this is about much more then the act of listening. I am sure many of the folks with whom Tanya engaged listened, they just did not hear. They too missed the art of silence. To be clear, I am not suggesting a silence in which people are not heard, but rather in creating the space in which we actually allow hearing to happen.

If we are to achieve the best in experience for all in healthcare it cannot simply be about what we say or know, the strategies we shape or the tactics we employ. At its very essence it must be about how we as humans choose to address this sacred and critical work. In all that is sacred I maintain the most transforming moments are less often found in the words and more in the silent moments and what they contain in between. If we can intentionally bring silence to our work in patient experience it may be the boldest and I dare say loudest statement of our humanity and all we strive to achieve in caring for one another. I am willing to give it a try…are you?

 

 

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
President
The Beryl Institute

Tags:  committment  compassion  culture  engagement  improving patient experience  listen  noise reduction  patient experiencePatient Experience 

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