Customer satisfaction isn’t anything new, but has been something some businesses and industries haven’t tried to push too much in the past. This may be a topic where ignorance is bliss and the healthcare community has lived in that mindset for a long time, especially when considering that improvement in patient satisfaction levels are becoming more of a hot button issue. In all honestly, most service-based industries struggle between taking in all the customer feedback and knowing that not everyone is going to be satisfied with the work performed. Shying away from negative response isn’t the answer, instead it is an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and taking the good with the bad because it is all important information.
To make improvements in patient satisfaction levels you have to know where some of the problems or concerns that patient have with the care, and you have to be willing to hear what the patient has to say, even if you are a professional with years of study and experience behind you. There is valuable information behind everything that is being said and somethings that aren’t being verbally expressed from a patient. The real question is where to start.
It is easy for physicians and other medical staff to get focused so on their duties that simple interactions are lost. Things like eye contact and listening to patients while in appointments are replaced with typing away at the computer and interrupting so as to get to the point more quickly. Patients have even complained that as they are going through recovery in a hospital, they have been almost bowled over by medical staff rushing by on the way to somewhere else much more quickly. It is actions or inactions like these that make a patient feel like they are not worthy of the time and attention needed for treatment. This would obviously be a blow to patient satisfaction and is something that is easy to address with the healthcare professionals.
Especially when you have worked at a location for a long time and know the building like the back of your hand, it is hard to see where there are outdated signage and quirky paths to follow. By putting yourself in their shoes and walking the paths that they would, you might see the things in a very different light. Understand that patients have to usually park further away from facilities, may have to pay by the hour for parking, and if they don’t know where they are going will arrive early in order to find their way. For patients that have to spend time in the hospital, consideration should be paid to how long it takes for a call button to be answered, railing in the hallways for support or amenities in the rooms. Not everything has to overhauled, but patient consideration should be factored into as many areas as possible.
Everyone has their duties and responsibilities, but most time that is where the services stop. By no means am I stating that everyone needs to swap positions and provide service that are above their knowledge base. But, if a patient is in need of assistance, going out of your way to eliminate embarrassment, offer assistance or fulfill a bigger purpose, do it! Most patients understand where one position ends and another begins, so it won’t go unnoticed when someone is willing to go above and beyond their daily tasks. This helps to meet the needs in a more seamless manner that truly helps realize improvement in patient satisfaction.
Things are going to go wrong at some point, and the worst thing that medical professionals can do to become defensive and find someone else to blame. This instinctively sets off defensive mechanisms in the patient and then everyone is put on edge. When a problem is brought to light, the best way to begin is to listen; no interruptions, no blame-game, no justifications, simply say you are sorry. This won’t solve the problem initially, but it will definitely not lead to posturing and self-protective attitudes. It is amazing how two little words can build on the improvements to patient satisfaction.
Building on the apology concept, when problems surface, they need to be resolved. You may not be the person to handle it, but basically listening and then letting the patient know that you can find someone to take care of the problem will go a long way. This isn’t to say that you state you will find someone and not follow through; that breaks the trust the patient has in you. To the patient, that issue may be the biggest challenge that this individual is facing; not taking them seriously is blow to the relationship being constantly built.
Accidents and mistakes are a part of life, that is how some people end up in the healthcare system in the first place. Without a doubt, healthcare professionals don’t want to or intend to make mistakes, but they happen. What some businesses and industries have found is that it isn’t always the professional or staff member that is to blame but the way the system and process flow is structured. As such, it is important to take a look at how processes are carried out, and if there is something wrong in the way that is organized, it is necessary to then make changes rather than place blame. This bolsters the confidence level that the professionals have, and they are able to more freely do their job as opposed to feeling like someone is always watching over their shoulder waiting for something to go wrong.
You can go in with the best of intentions to make a patient’s life better, but if the system isn’t set up to support your work, a smile isn’t going to solve the problem. Being positive and presenting a good face while interacting with patients is a natural part of the process of care, but there are many small, sometimes invisible concepts that have far reaching effects on the patient satisfaction levels. Things like how quickly a patient is brought back to a room or back for evaluation at a hospital, how close different departments are to one another or a least how easily it is to navigate from one location to another. All of this, plus the smile, makes a difference at how patients see their whole experience.
Improvement in patient satisfaction levels is not as easy to gauge as it is in many other industries when they are able to compare purchases against purchases, no matter how different they are, but healthcare is singular and can only be compared to other healthcare organizations. And, when a patient walks in for any sort of care, they are basing their judgements off of what they perceive is the best healthcare can provide. These high expectations and possibly low standards set when comparing hospital against hospital can leave a gap in care and intended outcomes. Healthcare organizations need to step up their game and not set their standards to the lowest common denominator, but make themselves the top apple in the basket and bring everyone else up to your level. This will be the new standard and provide the improvement in patient satisfaction that will be the one to beat.
Obviously, this isn’t the end of the list, nor the perfect list for every organization. There is a lot of considerations that need to be taken into account, and every healthcare structure is going to be different depending upon the needs within and the community demands placed on them. As more concepts are adopted into your organization, more will be discovered and changes will be made as they are needed. Improvement in patient satisfaction is no longer a thing that should be feared nor shied away from, but something that can provide answers to cracks in the current system, and help for professional staff to make them better at their jobs.
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