The health care experience is so much more than a buzzword to be talked about in administrative circles. Some physicians I encounter (a minority, but still enough) really scoff when they hear this term. Responses I’ve heard from doctors include: “Hospitals are not hotels!” or “If that means giving our patients as much Dilaudid as they want, then count me out!”
Aside from these sweeping statements being entirely silly, they are most definitely not what improving the health care experience is all about. I know a lot of physicians cringe (actually, probably most do) when they ever hear the term “customer service” applied to what we are doing in health care. Of course, patients are not a customer or a commodity, and referring to them as anything other than a patient serves to devalue and cheapen the practice of medicine.
On the other side of the coin, if focusing on the health care experience means bringing what we’ve learned from a whole host of other industries to health care — things like responsiveness, listening, taking complaints seriously, timeliness, and wanting people to feel good about their interactions with us — then that’s something health care should absolutely be embracing. Here are three big reasons why we should always be doing this:
1. We are in this to make our patients better
Think back to 100 years ago (okay, imagine it, unless I have some really old readers). Beds were lined up in rows on the medical wards. There would be one nurse taking care of them, a doctor with an entirely paternalistic approach, and very few medicines or other treatments available. Beds were uncomfortable, minimal pain or sedative medicines available (think biting on something while the doctor cut you), and the crying from your fellow patients would have not given you any rest. Thankfully we’ve really progressed since then. Obviously, the comfort of our patients is front and center of what we do. And that ties into the health care experience at the most fundamental level.
2. We are living in an increasingly competitive world
Health care in America has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, from predominantly independent physician practices delivering care, to large health care conglomerates battling for more patients, and hence more reimbursements and income. Across the country, you will see billboards announcing any particular hospital as “The best for your care” or the “Shortest ER wait times.” Like it or not, this is where it’s at — and especially in this new world of online ratings and word spreading like wildfire of negative experiences — patient experience is what any organization (and by extension, employed physicians) will live and die by. From that very first interaction, ambience when setting foot (or being rolled) into hospital, atmosphere on the medical floors, how we communicate…all the way to food options in the cafeteria: it all counts.
3. It makes our jobs more enjoyable
The very best organizations that understand patient experience is paramount, are also undoubtedly the best ones to work in. I’ve worked in dozens of different hospitals over the last few years in very different parts of the country. Actually, I’ve also worked in both England and Australia too (countries with very unique health care systems). From large academic medical centers, to tiny community rural outposts. It doesn’t matter how big any organization is, or the “famous name” attached to it, those which are known for great patient experience and get stellar reviews, have always been a pleasure to be associated with. Importantly, they consistently also deliver the best care as well.
These are just three things to keep in mind when we strive for a better health care experience. Having said this, let’s never forget the single most important thing that patients will always remember will be their human interactions. With their doctors, nurses, any other health care professionals, or even the food services staff. Physicians do play a very special and understated role here — because we are the leaders of the clinical team and the buck stops with us (please don’t ever forget that doctors!). Patients are coming to us at very low points in their lives, and will acutely remember everything. Unlike a hotel or restaurant, none of them wants to be there either. We, therefore, owe it to them to give them the “best” and most positive experience possible under difficult circumstances. One truly worthy of a caring profession.
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