10 Standards of Behavior Essential for Every Healthcare Organization [Part 2]

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We covered the first five Standards of Behavior in last week’s post. If you didn’t have a chance to review last week’s Thinking Thursdays TIPs, you may find a copy here.

This week I had originally planned to cover the remaining five Standards of Behavior, however, after getting into number 6, Active Listening Techniques, I decided to dedicate this week’s BLOG just to item number 6.

Next week we’ll pick back up with item number 7 and cover as many of the remaining Standards of Behavior as practical. My desire is to give you and your team usable TIPs and not overload with too much information.

We are taking highlights from MedicalGPS’ service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts. We believe these 10 Standards of Behavior and customer service techniques are essential ingredients to your organization’s success.

  1. Importance of Eye Contact
  2. Patient’s Preferred Name
  3. Patient’s Personal Details
  4. Body Language
  5. Open-ended Questions
  6. Active Listening Techniques
  7. Avoid Use of Medical Jargon
  8. Proactively Demonstrate Courtesy and Respect
  9. Waiting Room Rounding
  10. Telephone Etiquette

6. Active Listening Techniques

Active listening includes paraphrasing back to the patient what they said, but in your own words. Providing an affirmative nod, or warm smile lets the patient know that you are listening. Using active listening engages the patient, fosters better communication, and makes the patient feel important.

Using active listening skills when patients are happy is easy. Using active listening skills when patients are frustrated or unhappy can be a challenge.

Taking care of and serving unhappy patients will be the focus of the rest of this week’s blog.

Follow the steps below to make unhappy patients happy. Of course, you cannot make 100% of your patients happy, but you can use the steps below 100% of the time, which will greatly increase the number of patients that go from unhappy to happy.

How to Engage an Unhappy Patient

Let’s say a patient is approaching the check in counter and you are the receptionist. You sense some early-warning-signals that the patient is already in a state of frustration and unhappy.

You’re not sure why.

Perhaps it was hard to find a parking place, or maybe the elevator took longer than normal, or maybe the patient is just having a rough day.

1. Prepare Yourself

As the frustrated unhappy patient approaches you, first, take a deep breath and exhale slowly so that you stay as calm and collected as possible.
This is your opportunity to serve and perhaps make what is starting out as a bad experience turn into a good or even great experience. Approach the challenging situation with a sense of, “I’m here to help, it’s my privilege to have this opportunity.”

Even if you don’t fully believe that it’s a privilege to help and serve difficult people, the more you practice showing kindness and compassion, even during difficult circumstances, the more you will see that it works.

Having turned an unhappy patient into a happy patient will not only win over the patient, but it will grow YOU and help you develop your interpersonal skills as you get to practice expressing compassion.

Showing compassion really does work. Any time we show kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others, we are showing compassion. It’s worth saying again, showing compassion really does work.

Critical TIP: What you do not want to do is to meet the frustrated patient with a level of your own frustration because you are, “having to deal with another difficult patient.”

2. YOU Start the Conversation and Set the Tone

It’s important that YOU start the conversation and set the tone — a tone of ‘I’m here to help’.

Engage the unhappy patient in conversation and try to get the patient to tell you what’s going on. It’s ok to say something like, “Good morning [use the patient’s name if you already know it and speak in a soft, soothing voice], I see you may be having a tough morning, would you like to share with me? Maybe I can help.”

Allowing the patient to express their feelings is actually a good idea. Of course, as the receptionist, you have other patients to serve and you don’t have time to hear a long dissertation about every detail that went wrong, but you do have a few seconds to let the patient know you care, by asking.

When the patient replies, thank the patient and convey to the patient that you understand his or her feelings.

As mentioned, the practice of active listening will include paraphrasing back to the patient what they said, but in your own words. If an explanation of what went wrong seems appropriate, remain self-composed and then describe the situation. Offer a solution if possible. “Parking at this time of day can be a real problem – are you aware we offer a free valet parking service? If you haven’t tried it, it’s really easy and I think you’d love it”.

The great majority of patient encounters will end happily at step number 2.

By using active listening and showing compassion, most patients walk away feeling good or even great about the patient experience, just by knowing that someone cared enough to ask, and listen, and acknowledged that they understood their desires and needs.

When we show compassion and empathy it makes unhappy patients happy – at least for most of us!

3. Boundaries Are Very Important

If you have already employed the skills and techniques listed in items 1 and 2 above and things are not getting any better, it’s time to set some boundaries.

“We are responsible to others and for ourselves.” (1)

I love that short, yet profound line from the book titled, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

In our example above, the receptionist is responsible to serve and otherwise take care of the patient, even if the patient is frustrated and unhappy. At the same time, the receptionist is responsible for their own wellbeing, protecting themselves both physically and emotionally.

When you encounter very difficult patients, be polite and let the patient know what you can do, instead of telling them what you cannot do. For example, if a patient breaks line and demands to be checked in ahead of other patients, calmly let the patient know that you will be glad to check them in, in about 5 or 10 minutes [provide an estimate and try to be accurate]. Most importantly, as you set the patient’s expectations, be sure to meet or exceed those expectations, which will begin to win the patient back.

Setting boundaries in a calm, polite, yet firm manner will help decrease the likelihood the situation ratchets up to a higher level of frustration, for both the patient and for you.

4. Bickering Never Helps

It’s easy to fall into the trap of bickering. When tensions are elevated, and emotions are raw — avoid bickering. Here’s how.

First, use the skills and techniques listed above. In situations where the patient moves toward or into a state of bickering and you have tried steps 1 through 3 above, now is not a good time to say, “let me describe this for you one more time”, and then try to reiterate what you have already said.

The patient has already heard the explanation offered in step 2. Additional attempts to explain why the patient did not get or is not getting what they want will fail. An unreasonable patient will process a perfectly legitimate explanation as nothing more than an excuse of why they did not get what they wanted.

Now IS the time to simply apologize and reassure the patient that you will do all you can to take care of it.

5. Let it go.

If you have done all you can, knowing you have indeed used all of the techniques and skills listed above, and in spite of your best efforts the patient stays in a state of frustration, go ahead and apologize, if you haven’t already, and then ‘let it go’.

You will want to check-in with your manager to let them know about the situation, both as a means to enlist their support and as good first-step to begin to ‘let it go’. Don’t dwell on the situation or beat yourself up.

Avoid ruining your day and avoid doing disservice to your other patients along the way by harboring resentment and malice toward the unreasonable patient.
Unpleasant patient encounters with unreasonable patients will usually make you feel drained and despondent. Soon after the unpleasant patient encounter, head to the break room or take short walk to give yourself a few minutes to ‘let it go’.

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Thank you!

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