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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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