We spend so much time and energy trying to make good first impressions for our patients and other customers only to fall short on last impressions. I’ve seen fabulous examples of healthcare organizations that orchestrate a positive first impression through beautiful facilities, efficient processes, and frontline service skill training. Yet some of these same organizations completely blow it at the closure.
The Baird Group was recently doing a series of inpatient mystery shops for a reputable health system to assess the overall experience from both the patient and family perspectives. What we learned is that they do a fabulous job of managing the first impression, from way-finding and welcoming to soothing aesthetics. But this same organization completely loses momentum at the point of discharge in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. We also found that discharges on the weekends were worst of all.
For many of these studies, we try to have a Care Partner Observer present for discharge. In one case, after a two-week stay, the nurse handed the patient a folder of instructions and simply told him, “It looks like we have everything we need. You’re free to go.” At which time the family had to round up a wheelchair on their own, orchestrate where to pick up the patient, and lug all his belongings to the front entrance.
The same type of experience happens constantly in medical practices. In these settings, the patient is seen by a provider, lab work is drawn, and the final diagnosis is pending results. The patient is told, “We’ll let you know what the lab results show.” But the patient is left wondering what to do next, when he’ll hear about results, and how the results will be shared. All too often he walks away without answers to these questions.
My point here is not so much the discharge instructions—which of course are crucial not only for the patient’s peace of mind but for clinical outcomes—it’s about the send-off. I felt terribly sad when reading the mystery shopping report to hear what the family and patient above had to say about their last impressions. There had been so many positive experiences during the patient’s two-week stay, but what will he remember? What will be top-of-mind when the survey arrives?
There are sacred moments in the entire patient experience pathway, including the final face-to-face encounter where we have the chance to create a memorable moment that demonstrates we have provided competent care and help to instill confidence that the patient is ready to care for himself at home. Ask yourself what you will leave the patient and family with? Will they associate their final moments in your facility with nurturing, respect, and competence? Will they feel well prepared and confident to care for themselves? Or will they feel like they were just left to their own devices, flying in the wind with trepidation and uncertainty? The choice is yours, but success will only happen by design.
Manage the experience from start to finish because last impressions are lasting impressions.