“Terminal Uniqueness” as an Excuse for Poor Patient Satisfaction

Posted by Kristin Baird on February 11th, 2013 • 1 Comment »

We all like to think we’re special. In fact, as individuals, recognizing our unique attributes can be an important part of a positive self esteem. In business, our “specialness,” or unique attributes, is the very differentiator that helps us stand out in the marketplace. But where we get into serious trouble in healthcare is when we start to exaggerate a piece of information that grows from someone’s opinion, into an organizational belief, and finally into an accepted excuse. Let me explain….

My team and I do in-depth culture assessments to help healthcare organizations gain traction in achieving their patient experience goals. The cold, hard truth is that we’re enlisted only after they have tried numerous tactics and are baffled as to why the very prescription that has worked for others is eluding them. Before we even appear on site to do the assessment, many of our clients have diagnosed the problem (and believe me—it’s not seen as an internal issue as much as it is assumed to be the customers’ shortcomings). I describe this syndrome as “terminal uniqueness.”

Why are their scores so low? Here are just a few excuses we have heard from our clients to explain poor patient satisfaction:

  • Our patients are drug-seekers.
  • Our community is impoverished and members take it out on us.
  • Our population is very affluent and difficult to please.
  • We have a strong German heritage so no one will ever score us at the top.
  • This is a very “artsy” community and their expectations are too high.
  • Our public is angry with us for… (fill in the blank).
  • They don’t understand the survey.
  • Our population is under-educated.
  • Our community is highly educated.

OK, you see where I’m going with this. Each organization is unique. We believe that, or my team and I wouldn’t spend the time we do delving into the culture. It’s the culture that determines how you treat one another and your patients. But it’s also the culture or norm that allows one small piece of information to become a fact that permeates the organization and excuses less-than-desirable behavior.

Be on the lookout for these types of statements. When they creep up, address them swiftly, or your organization will continue suffering from terminal uniqueness. Once spread, the prognosis is poor patient satisfaction and an employee-centered (not patient-centered) culture.

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Baird Consulting

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