A trip into the healthcare maze can be a frightening, frustrating and lengthy experience for patients. It’s not uncommon to hear patients refrain: “Expect the worst. Hope for the best. Be prepared to wait, be uncomfortable and be ignored.”
Being a healthcare provider has its own challenges as well. “How am I ever going to get all of this work done?” Healthcare clinicians must remember that they have TWO important jobs. They must deliver the best possible clinical information/service and, at the same time, create as comfortable an experience as possible for the patient.
A structure I call “ASAP” can allow both of these important jobs to be accomplished.
A – Acknowledge. There is no greater insult than to be ignored. Patients report often that they feel “invisible.” I know that you are busy. Your mind is on clinical work. Stop! When in the view of a patient, make eye contact. Acknowledge that the patient is in your view. A thoughtful look, coupled with a smile, provides the empathy people need to understand that they are not forgotten.
The pushback I often get from clinicians is some version of, “I don’t have time or what if they ask me for something? I don’t have time to meet their requests!” Resist this thinking. It only takes a moment and, if the patient does seek assistance because you have acknowledged them, it likely is because they really need something in order to feel more relaxed.
S – Support. Set a “no ignore” rule in your department. If a patient has been sitting for more than 15 minutes without having someone actively engage with them, you can bank on getting a reputation of providing poor customer service. This commitment must be a standard set by all in the department, including department managers. The best support a manager can give is to model behavior that actively engages patients – even if that engagement is to send uncomfortable information such as, “it looks like the wait will be longer than we expected.” Telling the truth, even when it is not what people want to hear, does provide comfort and support to the patient.
I suggest asking one simple question, “What can I do for you, right now, to make your wait more comfortable?” This can mean the world to a patient who is thirsty, cold or simply wants to have the television tuned to their favorite station.
A – Accept. Simply accept what the patient has to say when you offer support. “I am angry that the wait time is so long,” can be met with an acknowledgment that you agree. This is a time when you can offer choices. “Would you like for me to have the scheduler attempt to reschedule your appointment?” “Would you like a blanket to keep you a bit more comfortable while you wait?” “Would you like a glass of water?”
Blaming another department for the delay will not give the patient comfort. Accepting the patient’s emotion and responding with a kind response will calm most stressed patients.
P – Prepare to Act. If you say you are going to check on the wait time and get back to the patient – do it! Be prepared to act in some way to help the patient feel more comfortable while they wait and during the procedure. Following through on something small allows patients to have the confidence that you are doing the BIG things well.
ASAP – Acknowledge that the patient is important with your eye contact and active engagement. Support through kind words, gestures and interaction. Accept what the patient reports as their truth. Prepare to Act with a kind gesture, an action to make the patient’s experience less stressful, and simple solutions thoughtfully delivered in a timely way.
I would love to hear about your strategies to prioritize the patient experience at your facility and invite you to submit a comment below.
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