During focus groups, I often ask patients what makes them feel confident in a healthcare organization or provider. It’s no surprise to me that their responses have little to do with credentials and a lot to do with behaviors and statements made by staff and providers.
Patients usually tell me that they want to feel respected, valued, informed, and included in decisions about their care. The things that instill confidence in provider competence usually come down to how well they communicate with the patient both verbally and non-verbally.
I recently had some minor surgery and quickly realized that my criteria for judging competence is no different than the other patients I’ve interviewed. What made me feel most confident was largely related to the physician’s and staff’s ability to communicate. Their ability to manage my expectations was probably the most important thing that they did. Several times during my short, outpatient experience, the nurse, anesthetist, and surgeon explained what they were doing, the schedule of events, and what I could expect. That information offered reassurance that they were on top of their game. It reinforced that they knew the drill and could give me a step-by-step action plan.
Coordination of care is another indicator of competence. When the staff and provider make statements like, “I see that you had your pre-op physical on Monday with Dr. Mendel,” or “The nurse tells me you had some questions about the incision site,” it shows that they are working together as a team. That, in addition to good eye contact and clear information, is invaluable in building confidence in the care.
The things that can erode confidence are not necessarily the big things. They are usually comments or behaviors that leave the patient wondering if you really know anything about them or their condition. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to having an IV placed. So imagine a nurse who comments, “You have really lousy veins” (read: “I will be sticking you several times”), or putting the tourniquet on your arm and saying, “Oops, I don’t have my swabs or tape. I’ll be right back.” This type of comment leaves the patient wondering if you are prepared for other aspects of the care.
The real takeaway is that everything patients hear, see, smell, and touch during their encounters need to build trust and confidence in the competence of the team. The result is greater loyalty, improved compliance, positive word of mouth, and a healthy bottom line. It’s a win-win.