The Patient Above All Else

Realistically, to understand the actual value of the services that you render to patients, you have to maintain a long-term relationship with them. This means periodically making contact to monitor how they’re doing, how they feel, what has transpired since the last contact, what new needs they may have, and what has worked best for them.

It is costly to develop and maintain such patient registries, yet the continuing display of care and concern for the patients and the development of longer-term relationships can lead to increased business (while not necessarily your first objective).

The day is coming when such monitoring can be done with less effort and lower cost. In addition, other parties who serve the patient such as medical device suppliers, drug stores, and health service firms can add to the breadth and scope of your data.

Patient feedback is a vital tool in the quest for transparency and in improving the overall quality and perceived value of the your services. The patient’s experience in terms of ease of appointment-making, waiting time, accessability to the doctor, attention to individual needs, amenities, discharge procedures, and follow-up are all valuable inputs that are over-ruled perhaps only by the patient’s ultimate perception of the quality and the outcome of his or her medical procedure.

Observe the Leaders, but Chart Your Own Path – Because many leading providers across the nation are already making core measures transparent, you have the opportunity to see what the early leaders are offering and potentially improve upon that. The more transparency measures you encounter in your perusal of progressive providers, the greater the opportunity you have to align the mix of measures in your transparency efforts.

Some of the measures you may wish to include, clearly, are beyond traditional. For example, while this may seem like an exceedingly small item for you, a consumer might want to know, “Does the hospital provide me an aspirin within so many minutes of my arriving at the emergency room if I complain of chest pain?”

Manage Perception – To consumers, perception is everything. If they feel like they’re being treated well and looked after, all other things being equal, that is an important feather in your cap. Conversely, if consumers are being treated well but their perception is that they are not, then they are going to feel somewhat agitated. Hospitals have to both treat the patient well and manage the perception that they are doing so. Ultimately patients’ view can be reflected in the transparency data that you generate.

Changing the value of perception can occur in other small ways. For example, if you simply passed out a card to patients during their stay that asks, “How are we doing today?” it’s a seemingly small inexpensive gesture, but it can greatly impact perceptions.
Why not give the patient the opportunity to log on and, as hotels currently do, make comments about the quality of their stay. “Was the desk reception friendly?” Through use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, patients can easily be afforded the opportunity to offer updates in real time. These aren’t necessarily going to be all complaints, and someone at your hospital who has responsibility for quality control could monitor comments posted on social media, aggregate them, and provide real feedback to the executive staff.

Perhaps more important, such feedback could help the floor staff to make real time improvements in the quality of care. “Ms. X in room 526 would prefer to have the newspaper delivered as the very first thing…” With some ingenuity you could create patient satisfaction scores to be compiled and included in your transparency efforts.

Learn from Other Industries – When the W brand from Westin Hotels was first launched, a button was installed on phones in the rooms with a W on it, which stood for, “Whatever, whenever.” Hotel guests could hit the W button and regardless of the type of assistance they were seeking, whether it was room service, housekeeping, or security, their request would quickly be handled.

Small personal touches can make a difference, literally. In a Tampa Bay area hospital, a new process was initiated. If a nurse or allied health professional is about to leave a patient’s room they have to turn, actually touch the patient (if conditions allows) and say, “Is there anything else I might do for you before I leave?” Consequently, a notable rise in patient satisfaction scores resulted. Increasingly patients indicated that the quality of care during their stay was higher than those patients who had not received “the touch” and the question, even when no other discernable measures of quality were provided to one group of the other.

The key in touching the patient is to offer an authentic person-to-person gesture, warm and friendly, and given with the complete intention to serve. You never want your people to get robotic, like a fast-food worker who mindlessly repeat a sales mantra, i.e., a guy walks into a fast food restaurant, orders apple pie and a milkshake, and the order taker says, “Do you want some desert to go with that?”

Doctors Can Work Miracles – Your doctors can go a long way in enhancing the perceived level of quality. If a doctor enters a room for as little as 30 seconds, as long as he or she sits down by the patients 10 seconds or so, no matter what else happens, the perception of the patient is that this person cares.

Suppose the doctor walks in, never sits down, then leaves. No matter how attentive and caring, the prevailing perception becomes, “Oh, the doctor was making rounds, and I’m merely one of many.”

Implications for Your Hospital – Have you implemented a campaign to identify all areas of “perception management”?
* Are you surveying patients or otherwise providing outlets for their expression?
* What possible measures are emerging as a results of your exploration?
* Are there guidelines for doctors, nurses, and medical staff for offering an added personal touch?
* How do you support these efforts, rewarding those who capitulate and correcting those who do not?
* Are you developing other strategies for delighting patients?

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