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How Customer Service Can Make a Visit to the ER Fun

by Mark Mathia, MBA on Aug 29, 2016

I’m not a linguist, but I find it very telling that “patient,” a person receiving medical treatment, is spelled and pronounced the same as “patient,” the ability to accept or tolerate delay or suffering without becoming annoyed. We expect a great deal of patience from our patients, especially in the emergency room. Minor injuries get bumped by more acute cases, labs can take hours and creature comforts, like a glass of water or a pillow, can easily be overlooked.patient-care.jpg

I know the goal of a healthcare provider is to send patients home in better condition than when they arrived, but could it be—in our rush for healing—that we forget the necessary customer service training that leads to outstanding care?

A few months ago I was on the other side of a healthcare transaction. I took my teenager to the emergency room for an immediate evaluation. What can I say—it’s difficult to be a teen these days. Unfortunately, there was only one ER that offered the specialized services he needed. My family arrived at 7:35 p.m. in the emergency room of a large hospital. While there was a serene feeling from behind the counter, the waiting room offered a different vantage point. It was crammed with people in pain. The television was too loud, the chairs were too hard and the patients were grumpy, hurting and frustrated at the long wait times. 

We hurried to fill out the proper paperwork and then had to wait...a long, long time. It was difficult for us, but I felt especially bad for the poor lady whose jaw was hurting so much she was in tears. After an hour, she left without treatment in an attempt to find another place that could get her in faster. Even the young man in handcuffs escorted by the police waited at least two hours. Talk about an awkward situation for the rest of us. 

By the time we were admitted, treated and released, six hours had passed. No apologies or explanations were offered for the delays. Worse, I got the impression this was normal.

While we received decent care, I walked away wondering if it was worth it.

As customers, we all have our love-hate moments with the process of receiving care. It’s no secret that the healthcare world gets to deal with patients (and their parents) at their worst moments, but still, there are three key strategies that could have made our ER visit more tolerable…maybe even a little fun.

Outstanding service starts at the top.

I’m always impressed with a hospital's mission statement. They are well thought out and powerful. My question is; do your employees know, understand and believe in the mission they are serving? When I ask this question in my customer service seminars, the answer is often…uh, nope. 

We shouldn’t assume that because the mission is written on a wall that it’s in our hearts. There is a special magic that happens when we work for something larger than ourselves. Our corporate mission provides a larger story for everyone to live. The problem is that it often becomes the most powerful overlooked tool in the hospital.

Proactive communication—it matters.

My ER experience made me wonder if they understood what it felt like to be a patient in the waiting room. If they had asked, I would have let them know that “speed to care” was important to me as an ER visitor. As I peered around the room, I saw no clocks, no indication that wait times were being monitored, and no communication being given as to what patients could expect. A little proactive communication would have helped calm the negative energy in the room, even if the wait time had been the same.  

What are your customers thinking? You will never know if you don’t ask. 

Treat people better than you want to be treated. 

By taking the extra step during the admissions process, you will set a positive tone for the rest of the care experience. Even if a physician is too hurried and lacks in bedside manner, the front desk staff can set the stage for a good patient experience. It all starts with a true desire to treat people better than you would like to be treated.

By training on customer service, you will forever impact the lives of those who are seeking treatment.  When people are sick, they are most vulnerable and in need. Extending caring service will imprint a positive memory of the encounter for a lifetime. Regardless of the diagnosis, this feeling of being well cared for will create a loyal following and people who are willing to endure long wait times.


Mark Mathia, MBA, is a Cassling Investing in You seminar speaker. Mark is a certified independent coach, speaker and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, and has more than 23 years of experience in the healthcare industry.

Meet the Author

Mark Mathia, MBA, is a Cassling Investing in You seminar speaker and guest blogger. He is a veteran of the healthcare industry with over 23 years of experience. He currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer for Signature Performance, a healthcare services organization headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. When not writing engaging copy, spearheading creative marketing campaigns and promoting his firms’ services, he is training, speaking and sharing ideas as a thought leader in the healthcare industry. Mark’s experience—paired with his training as a certified independent coach, speaker and trainer with the John Maxwell Team—gives him a unique voice.

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