At MJM, we work with many healthcare practices and vendors and one of our primary roles in this work is researching, understanding and improving the patient experience. For a vast majority of patients, the quality of their overall experience is just as important to their satisfaction as the quality of the medical care provided. It’s remarkable that at the end of 2015, most healthcare practices still focus so little on creating the best possible patient experience. Practices that want to grow in 2016 will be wise to deeply understand the experience their patients are having with their staff, building, and processes.
Being a father for two young children has taught me many valuable lessons that translate to great experiences in healthcare. Here are four of those lessons, which any healthcare practice can use to consider new staff training, tactics and patient touchpoints:
1. Build and honor trust
Children have an intrinsic trust in their parents, that they will do what’s best, provide safety, and offer comfort. As a father, I’ve learned that such trust is a fragile thing and that building and honoring this trust requires daily work. Maintaining trust with children creates space for them to grow, make decisions and be honest about their feelings and concerns.
Patients often enter a healthcare practice fearful of what they may find out. They can be scared, unsure, and anxious about learning bad news or making big decisions around their health. Doctors and staff that focus on building and honoring the trust of their patients create invaluable space for healthy patient experiences. And patients who have their trust honored become lifelong fans and champions of the practice.
Much like parenting, the skills required to build and honor trust are time and listening. Honor the time of your patients, be present with them and listen to what they are communicating both verbally and non-verbally.
2. Create space for asking questions
One thing every parent craves is the discovery of the right environment for their kids to open up and discuss the thoughts, questions and concerns deep in their minds and hearts. It can be a different environment for each child—a long car ride, laying in bed at night, going for a walk or playing with stuffed animals. A key to finding that space for conversation is awareness and openness to your child, leaving time and opportunity for them to share, ask and talk.
Too many times in healthcare, the urgency of getting a patient through the clinic schedule reduces or eliminates any chance of our staff members creating space to truly listen to the patient. Beyond the occasional (and obligatory) “Any questions?” the process is actually structured to reduce the time each patient spends in each room. Without the space for conversation, practices lose much of their opportunity to really connect with patients, understand their fears and goals and best meet their needs.
As a father, I’ve found that I need to create specific times and cues to slow down, make space and listen deeply. Healthcare staff members likewise need to create cues during patient visits to slow down, connect, and listen.
3. Use language that the listener understands
We don’t expect young children to understand the exact language explanations of politics, sports, car repairs or why they can’t eat candy for every meal. Yet, healthcare staff often forget that their patients don’t have the knowledge or training to understand much of the language used during consultations.
Studies have shown that when patients feel overwhelmed by or don’t understand what they’re being told, they simply shut down and quit engaging the conversation. That’s unhealthy and dangerous for both the practice and the patient.
Much like being a parent, practices should constantly be aware of the language they are using and prepared to explain in more general terms what is happening with the patient. Practices should role play this often and create a list of phrases and language they use that will be challenging for patients to understand.
4. Know when to make a personal recommendation
As a parent, you know that you will need to make decisions and rules for your kids, especially when they are young. Yet, you also try to create space for them to make their own decisions and live with the results. This is an important part of growing up and functioning as an adult.
When people come to their doctor, they are looking for guidance in making big health decisions. More than ever before, doctors need to be prepared to offer a personal recommendation for a care plan for each patient. This plan should take into consideration all that they’ve learned about each patient.
On this point, the worlds of parenting and healthcare come together—doctors and staff should be doing their best to make recommendations to each patient as if they were part of their family. What would you recommend if it were your son? Your sister? Your father or mother? This kind of personalized, deeply committed care makes a world of difference in providing the patient with an experience to share with others.
Parenting has much to teach us about growing in our skills of listening, creating space, and personalizing care for healthcare patients. Let’s make this the year we truly focus on improving the patient experience across all of healthcare.