What can Dale Carnegie teach us about the patient experience?

Posted by Kristin Baird on September 11th, 2013 • No Comments »

Dale Carnegie made a name for himself back in the 1936 with his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie’s techniques have helped millions of followers learn tactics for becoming more engaged and engaging.

One of the lessons Carnegie shared was to be more interested than interesting. In other words, he encourages others to make a sincere effort to learn more about others and, in the process, become more engaged.

We can apply Carnegie’s lessons in healthcare by becoming more interested in our customers. In doing so, we will be more effective at helping them to engage with us. Becoming more interested means really listening and learning from our patients and co-workers.

To be interested, we have to find ways to learn from our patients, to find out what makes them tick, and to learn about preferences, irritations, fears, and, yes, even about our shortcomings. Asking questions and listening to their answers is a great place to start on a one-to-one basis, but there are additional methods for understanding your customers.

What are some ways you can show your interest in the patient experience and really listen? There are several methods that I find effective in understanding the patient. Many of the methods I advocate are qualitative. Most organizations are already doing quantitative data collection through surveys, but the information gathering can’t stop there if you truly want to understand what matters most. Surveys are great for benchmarking and drawing attention to certain areas in need of work, but surveys don’t tell you why you have scored the way you have. By talking with your customers, you can delve deeper into what’s most important to them.

In-depth interviews and focus groups are great methods for delving deeper. While in-depth interviews are one-to-one discussions, focus groups gather several people into one room for a guided discussion. Both methods are valuable, but my favorite method is ethnography studies that combine observation with interviews.

With this approach, you get the best of both worlds. You see what is happening in real time and ask the patient for impressions and feelings about the encounters. I find that when we give our clients the results of ethnography studies they typically have some surprises but walk away much clearer about their patients’ experiences.

Listening to your internal customers is just as important. Doing inter-departmental surveys followed by one-to-one discussions helps you get closer to the people you serve inside your organization. Following surveys with face-to-face discussions is a worthwhile effort in building collaboration between departments. I’m often surprised to see how many organizations are reluctant to conduct internal surveys, but, once they make the effort, the impact is clear.

The bottom line is that listening builds empathy, and empathy builds relationships. And with stronger relationships, great things happen. Whether you want to strengthen your relationship with your patients or your internal customers, you’ll get further faster by showing sincere interest, asking questions, and listening.

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Baird Consulting


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