As part of MedicalGPS’ service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts, there are 10 Standards of Behavior and customer service techniques that every healthcare organization (indeed every business) will find critical as the organization seeks to create and sustain a culture of service excellence. We will cover one through five in this week’s Thinking Thursdays TIPs. Next week we’ll cover the remaining five.
- Importance of Eye Contact
- Patient’s Preferred Name
- Patient’s Personal Details
- Body Language
- Open-ended Questions
- Active Listening Techniques
- Avoid Use of Medical Jargon
- Proactively Demonstrate Courtesy and Respect
- Waiting Room Rounding
- Telephone Etiquette
1. Importance of Eye Contact
For receptionist and other support staff working in the front-end of the practice, as patients approach your work area, when the patient is about 10 to 15 feet from you, look up from your computer, offer a genuine smile, make eye contact with the patient and welcome the patient with a warm, friendly greeting. Being proactive to take the initiative to recognize the patient, BEFORE the patient actually steps up to the check-in desk will let the patient know that you are there to serve them and it makes the patient feel important. Making a favorable first impression will absolutely set the tone for the rest of the patient’s experience.
For MA’s and other clinical staff, to create an environment of courtesy and respect, when you’re in the exam room with a patient, try to make and keep eye contact with your patient as you are performing tasks. Engage the patient in conversation and explain each step of each procedure. Make the conversation feel as natural and friendly as possible. Avoid using an overabundance of medical terms that are beyond most of your patients’ vocabulary. When use of medical terms are required, be sure to explain it in layman’s terms, if possible.
Making eye-contact while concurrently using electronic devices can be a challenge. Make sure that as soon as you enter the exam room, your eyes are up and focused on the patient and his or her family, not looking at your notes or tablet. This small, initial interaction sets the tone for the entire encounter.
2. Patient’s Preferred Name
Always address your patients by name. When you take the time to learn his or her name and how to pronounce it, you’re demonstrating a great deal of respect by using their preferred name. If you are not sure of the patient’s preferred name, it’s perfectly okay to simply ask the patient which name they prefer.
3. Patient’s Personal Details
Find out more about your patient than just their medical history. Ask patients about their jobs, children, and hobbies. Knowing these small, personal details will show the patient that you are interested in them as an individual. Oftentimes, knowing a few personal details will give you useful information that just may allow you to provide better care than you would have otherwise.
Weather in the exam room or when approaching the patient in the waiting areas, when possible, position yourself near your patient to allow you to talk at lower volumes. When in the exam room or hospital room, if possible, sit near the patient instead of standing near the patient. A 2012 study found that patients perceived a more positive interaction and comprehend a better understanding of medical details when their caregiver simply sat down during their interactions.
“Simply sitting instead of standing at a patient’s bedside can have a significant impact on patient satisfaction, patient compliance, and provider-patient rapport, all of which are known factors in decreased litigation, decreased lengths of stay, decreased costs, and improved clinical outcomes.” (1)
4. Body Language
For those of us in the customer service business, which of course includes healthcare, it is a MUST that our body language aligns with our spoken words. For example, a warm and friendly greeting might go sometime like this; “Good morning, thank you for choosing [practice name] as your healthcare provider. It’s a pleasure to see you today”.
It is essential that our facial expression, eye contact, and hand/arms be positioned in such a way that our body language “says” the same thing. Whenever our body language and our words are in conflict, the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the patient will be counterproductive and may even create distrust. When interacting with patients, use what is known as an open body posture: face your patient, don’t cross your arms or turn away, and offer an affirming nod to the patient wherever they offer comments and feedback.
5. Open Ended Questions
Questions may be asked in a way that allows your interaction with the patient to be more positive. For example, instead of asking yes or no questions, ask open-ended questions. Try saying, “Tell me how I can help,” instead of asking, “Do you need any help?” Request information from your patient by saying, “Tell me about the help you have at home,” instead of asking, “Do you have help at home?”
While it seems like a small difference, using open-ended questions will provide you with much more information about the patient and their unique situations. It also lets the patient know that you want to know more than just a simple yes and no, which engages the patient and makes them feel better about their visit.
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