A recent series of family medical emergencies and a scheduled cancer procedure with my sister had me bouncing from emergency rooms and doctor’s offices to labs and hospital rooms over a two week period. During that time I experienced some of the best and worst encounters possible. I will say that all the interactions and every person made an impact, but none more than the physicians. What I realized is that an exceptionally attentive doctor can make up for lost lab results, miscommunications, and other irritating debacles. When my mom’s doctor took the time to call me on Christmas day (when she was not on duty) to review a new medication regimen and to check on mom’s condition, I could see past the mistake at the lab causing us to have to return to the hospital on Christmas day for a repeat blood draw.
Then there was the interventional radiologist who did an exceptional job explaining a complex cancer treatment. His personality and communication skills helped to quell fears, inform, and manage patient expectations.
But just as a great doctor can curb other irritations, a rude, abrupt physician quickly overshadows the attentive and compassionate nursing staff in making a lasting impression. At one point the ER doctor interrupted and talked over my sister as she was describing her pain, then rolled his eyes at me when I tried to explain some pertinent health history. His demeanor was not just shocking; it was a deal breaker for me. The nurses had been attentive, kind, and incredibly professional but what made the lasting impression was the doctor.
In each of these encounters, I had to wonder if the physician was cognizant of his behavior and the impact it has on the patient and family. My guess is that they had no idea. In fact, many professionals go through life without getting any direct feedback which can be a detriment. The shining stars may not get the reinforcement that they deserve and the snarky ones never have anyone point out the bad behaviors. In either case, there are missed opportunities to learn what’s working and what’s not. That alone makes a strong case for shadowing and coaching.
I’ll admit that I’ve had some second thoughts about sharing these stories. I fear that there will be lots of readers wanting to point fingers at the doctors. Don’t. My point here is that it’s one person that can make a huge difference. These examples could just as easily have been made about receptionists, phlebotomists, nurses, and techs. The stars give your organization a nice glow, but the rotten apples also leave lasting impressions. My advice is to make shadowing and coaching part of your quality assurance measures. Observe, give feedback, and spread the glow while eliminating behaviors that leave bad and indelible memories.