The Forgettable Experience: Part 2 — Quality Interactions Not Empty Transactions
Our last issue identified how many patients feel like their interactions with physicians feel more like transactions with a bank teller. It also spoke of how our cultures have been molded by a hierarchical legacy reaching all the way back to medical training.
Q: So how do we migrate organizations from their current state of providing inconsistent, episodic service excellence to a true patient-centered system?
A: By establishing that patient-accountability is everyone’s role. Everyone becomes responsible for transforming the culture. Leaders just need to know how to take the guesswork out of it, so everyone participates.
Being patient-accountable isn’t about creating a “kumbaya”, feel-good attitude, it’s about providing all staff with a common direction to guide quality interactions - the building blocks of a patient-centered system.
If there is a single defining characteristic for patient-accountability, it’s this: It begins at the top and permeates through the entire organization. It must be built into the organization’s mission statement and reflected in every team member’s role description.
Leaders must create the right organizational structures, and repeatedly underscore the organization's commitment to what matters most to patients using culture cues like this card. Every employee, whether they deal directly with a patient or not, needs to understand how his or her every day actions affect everyone who works with patients and the patients themselves.
We know the quality of our interactions impacts culture, team-performance and patient outcomes. Start by focusing less on the speed of the transaction. When you talk to people, are you focused on the transaction or your interaction?
During a transactional encounter you’ll focus so much on the task at hand you’ll be inclined to block out everything else in order to get the job done. A true interaction depends on really listening and staying in the moment with the patient/team member in front of you. It’s not difficult to be aware of the difference. After all, if you were the patient (or if your mother was the patient) what would matter most to you?
For example, consider the average medication explanation. Physicians are notorious for rapidly downloading medication information with medical jargon and running out the door to the next patient without verifying this information has been properly transmitted and understood. The research shows we think we do a good job at communicating, but many leave confused and require follow-up. The bottom-line is that we’re not providing quality interactions and these empty transactions have a profound impact on patient experience and trust. Besides, they cost us a fortune.
To become more self-aware about how you handle conversations, ask yourself: Are you focusing on how the patient is assimilating the information you’re giving? Do you follow up to ask if your instructions are understood… do they even make sense? Do you ask for their feedback and try to help them become part of the decision making process?
If you are focused on the transaction when communicating with staff, there can be a tendency to treat the conversation in a matter-of-fact, Sergeant Friday approach: "Just the facts Ma'am." The implied message behind the message can be interpreted as I don't have time for you or what is important to you."
So take a look at the quality of conversations you're having. Are they transactional or interactional? While training yourself to be more self-aware, ask yourself, “If this were my mother, how would I explain it? All of our patients need that personal approach and relationship if we want to earn their trust. As you begin to have more quality interactions with patients and/or staff, I'm confident that you'll begin to see how each interaction you have sets the tone for your culture.