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Patient experience framework: Human-Business-Human

January 2nd, 2013

by Doug Della Pietra

After reading my December blog post, one reader asked: "How do you train your front-line staff?"

Training is one dimension among other essentials--organizational culture, hiring/onboarding processes, employee engagement and satisfaction, to name a few.

So here are a few thoughts on ways to help front-line staff create an exceptional patient experience.

[More:]

Differentiate Function and Role
Over the past year, my guest services team has had countless discussions about the fundamental difference between one's function (the WHAT--job tasks) and one's role (the WHO, HOW and WHY we are as co-healers and that healing can occur at any touchpoint across the care continuum through human, emotional connections).

Provide a Framework
Quality interpersonal interactions are essential for optimizing patient experience (note the qualities within HCAHPS survey questions--courtesy, respect, careful listening, helpful, responsive, etc.).

For instance, Jake Poore, President of Integrated Loyalty Systems, champions what he calls "human-business-human," a framework that calls staff attention to the vital importance of first "entering on the human" before attending to the "business" and concluding each interaction by "exiting on the human." While efficiency, accuracy, and delivery speed are important "business" elements, encounters are deprived their healing dimension without a genuine and sincere human, emotional connection.

As Jason Wolf wrote in his latest Hospital Impact blog post, "If we try to over-systematize the experience process we may lose this most important element."

Assess Emotions
Initially, our guest services team stressed the business dimension of its interactions: assessing and speedily meeting people's "business" needs. Now, we stress assessing human emotions that can lead to empathizing, decreasing anxiety, calming fears, being compassionate, etc.

Recognize, Coach, Practice, Be Accountable
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." (Aristotle)

Even though the guest services team was fully involved in identifying and establishing new service standards and expectations, habit-changing ("excellence") involves intention, time, constant reinforcement, encouragement, coaching, practice and accountability (and patience). Therefore, we reinforce, affirm, recognize, and celebrate the recently prioritized co-healing behaviors and coach, practice and are held accountable when we default to former habits.

To close, here's just one of the growing number of exceptional guest services team moments.

Recently, a woman approached the guest services desk and explained to the smiling team member (whom I'll call "Hope"): "I just dropped off my sister at the cancer center, and now I need to visit another family member who is here. I am so burned out; your smile helps."

Making eye contact the entire time, Hope "entered on the human" and said, "I am so sorry you're burned out. It sounds like you have a heavy burden as a caregiver for your family."

Hope then (and only then) turned to the computer (the "business") for information, handed the woman a Post-it note with her loved one's room number and wished her well ("exit on the human"). She thanked Hope, mentioned stepping outside to make some phone calls, passed through the sliding glass doors and disappeared around the corner.

To my admiration and delight, Hope wasn't satisfied and immediately went to the hospital's gift shop. A few minutes later the woman reappeared in the lobby. Hope caught her attention, motioned her to the desk and gave her a red rose. The woman's eyes welled up; she was so moved that she just stared at us for a long moment--as if to take it all in. Then, she generously thanked Hope adding, "Rochester General Hospital is such an amazing place!"

Indeed, humanity is the heart of patient experience success!

Doug Della Pietra is the director of Customer Services and Volunteers for Rochester General Hospital in New York, where he co-chairs the hospital's Patient Experience Team, in addition to responsibilities for an intentionally-designed patient- and family-centered volunteer program and front-line First & Last Impression initiatives. Follow Doug @DougDellaPietra on Twitter.

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