Our last poll asked, "Which of the following industries has the biggest need to improve their customer experiences?" The results showed 22% believed that financial services could use some improvement, 25% said retail, 8% said "other" but 43% of respondents voted for healthcare. And I wholeheartedly agree.
It's a little ironic that a profession in the "caring" business was voted the most in need to improve their experiences. However, under current staffing and financial constraints, it's easy to see how "customers" can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. Customers become bodies moving through the system. But what can healthcare do to improve the experience that they deliver that won't cost extra?
Let's focus on hospital visits. I had an experience this summer in the emergency department. My first ever attack of kidney stones was an unpleasant experience to say the least. And, this occurred during the SARS scare. When I arrived at the hospital, I was in considerable discomfort. The intake nurse was kind and thorough, making sure she got all the information needed to help me. I was taken immediately and put in a bed. A few nurses came by to check on me - they knew my name but I didn't know whom they were. I had no idea what was going to happen - I didn't know what types of tests might be taken. I didn't know the timing. All I knew was that the doctor would be in to see me "soon." So I waited feeling like a body attached to a wristband - invisible as hospital staff came in one after another looking only at my wristband without acknowledging me as a person.
In the semi-private room that I was in, the older gentleman next to me complained on and on that he'd already been at the hospital for four hours and the doctor had not yet come to see him. He didn't know what was happening. He was getting angry. His wife was getting impatient. They felt ignored. Whenever anyone went by in the hall he shouted out "When's the doctor coming?" The response was "soon".
Our room was beside the x-ray machine and several people were lining up in the sitting area with badly swollen arms, legs and feet. They knew that they were going to get an x-ray but they didn't know when. There was no one in the x-ray department and the lights were even off. The people that were waiting didn't know if the shift had started or the person was on break and there was no communication to let them know what was happening.
Now, let me ask you a question. Would you shop at a store that told you to wait in line but didn't say for how long or what you were waiting for? Of course you wouldn't. So, why do hospitals expect us to put up with bad experiences? How can hospitals improve the experience they're delivering to their customers?
First, I'd suggest that they communicate, communicate, communicate. It doesn't cost the hospital any more to explain to their customers (yes, they call them patients) and the families that accompany them to the hospital what's going to happen next. It helps to put people's minds at ease. Not knowing is more stressful.
Second, I'd like to suggest that hospital staff remember that patients are people and people have feelings. It would put your mind a little more at ease if the nurses that came in also introduced themselves to you - as people, the same way that doctors do. We patients know that doctors and nurses have different roles, but we like to know to whom we're talking. The nurses were wearing ID cards but they are often hidden in their clothes making it extremely difficult to know what the nurses' names are.
What really mattered to me at the end of my ordeal was how the hospital staff made me feel. Yes, I wanted to feel better but what I remember and what I tell others about was the experience. Did I appreciate the quick assessment by the intake nurse? Absolutely! Could she have said something to comfort my husband? Absolutely! Could she have made the experience a little less frightening for me? Absolutely! Would it have cost anything extra for her to tell my husband what to expect? Absolutely not!
Do you have a healthcare experience to share? Click here to tell me about it.