Driving the Patient Experience: What You Permit, You Promote

Every hospital we’ve ever worked with has a series of expectations for their staff members related to the patient experience. Things like addressing patients by their preferred name or taking responsibility for trash or spills are usually on the list. Your hospital probably also has a list of “service standards” contained in some policy manual or online as well. This list is usually referenced and reviewed at orientation and, maybe, during annual training.

Setting Standards for the Patient Experience

Even though these standards are common, what is also common is the failure to hold employees accountable to these standards. Even senior-level employees get a pass on upholding these service levels.

As we evaluate and work with organizations to improve the patient experience, it’s not uncommon for us to observe such things as:

  • Hospital staff talking about other staff, patients, and hospital issues in areas where patients and visitors can hear these conversations.
  • Staff members failing to ask if they can help a patient find their appointment when the patient looks notably “lost.”
  • Staff members chatting among themselves while patients are waiting, or the phone is ringing.
  • Employees walking by garbage that could and should have been picked up and deposited in the trash.
  • Staff smoking on a smoke-free campus.

Meanwhile, leaders walk by without comment. And that’s a major problem. Because creating an exceptional patient experience isn’t about writing standards. It’s about living those standards. And it starts at the very top of the organization.

If your senior leaders, including medical staff, aren’t walking the talk, your standards lack credibility and become virtually worthless. What you permit, you promote! If employees see their leaders ignoring the standards, why should they follow them? Further, if they observe leaders allowing others to ignore the standards, it sends a powerful message. A message that standards aren’t an expectation, but rather, a suggestion.

That’s not the message you want to send in this era of heightened scrutiny and shared public data on hospitals and health systems. Competition is on the upswing and word-of-mouth rules. With increasing choice, consumers will more than ever seek care elsewhere if you’re not meeting their needs.

Promoting Accountability for the Customer Experience

Senior leaders can drive a culture shift when they do two things consistently: 

  1. Make expectations clear that leaders at all levels are expected to uphold the standards themselves AND hold everyone accountable. Borrow from the TSA by abiding by the statement, “If you see something; say something.” 
  2. Make regular rounds to model the way, reinforce the positive and identify issues in need of correction. While you don’t want to become known as the “white glove” patrol, you must be both visible and observant. Rounding allows you to see how middle managers interact and provide feedback. It helps drive greater accountability when everyone knows that you not only expect, but inspect people, processes, and the environment (place) that affect the patient experience.

Look around your facility. Are your leaders walking the talk? Remember: What you permit, you promote.

Great leaders create great cultures that uphold service standards for all. Learn the eight skills that build a great leader in our 8-week course, Be the Leader Nobody Wants to Leave. Learn more about the course here, or schedule a free 30-minute consultation here

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