Though rural hospitals can’t always have the fanciest or most expensive equipment, they can set themselves apart through compassionate patient care. Improving the patient experience should be one of the top goals for any hospital, especially now that patient-satisfaction scores have an impact on reimbursements.
For rural hospitals, improving satisfaction is the best way to stop patients from looking for care in the big cities and to build a positive reputation in the local community.
Improving overall patient satisfaction requires a comprehensive customer-service strategy, which should be a priority for small hospitals. Still, a few simple things can make a difference in the patient experience.
Keep the patient informed
Seeking medical care can cause considerable anxiety, and being left in the dark about what is going on with a test or procedure can add to that stress. Every staff member should know how to handle a patient’s question, complaint or concern. Anticipating patients’ common questions and providing that information upfront can help put them at ease.
If wait times will be longer than usual, patients should be notified and given reasons for delays. Unnecessarily long wait times in lobbies and exam rooms can make patients even more frustrated or anxious, and it is the responsibility of the hospital staff to offer explanations. “I don’t know” is not a good answer, and staff should know whom to ask about patients’ questions.
Know how and when to apologize
Those in the medical field know that the old phrase, “the customer is always right,” isn’t always true in healthcare. Regardless, hospital staff need to keep their cool when patients or family members get frustrated. It is important to address their concerns.
Attentive, compassionate listening can send the message that you and your facility care about patients. Acknowledge what individuals are communicating, and speak with compassion and a desire to understand.
Don’t hesitate to apologize. No matter whose fault it may be, offer an apology, and then explain the steps your team will take to resolve the situation. It’s not always easy to apologize, especially when you are in the right and the patient doesn’t understand an issue as comprehensively as you do. An apology is not always an admission of guilt, and it gives you the opportunity to de-escalate the situation instead of arguing about who is right.
Put yourself in the patient’s shoes
For those who work in a hospital every day, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a patient. Patients don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, and they don’t have the extensive medical background that you and your team have.
Take some time at your next team meeting to imagine the patient experience—from lobby to exam room to exit—and identify the areas of your customer-service strategy that could use work. At what point does the patient experience the most stress? The most frustration? How can each member of the team help allay concerns? What did you forget to tell the patient?
These are just a few ways to improve your workflow and to better address the patient’s needs. They aren’t silver bullets, but they will head your team’s thinking in the right direction. SRJ believes in comprehensive, patient-focused customer-service plans for rural hospitals.
To learn more about how SRJ can help your hospital improve the patient experience through customer service, marketing and leadership coaching, please call 214-528-5775.