What You Need To Know If You Really Want To Deliver Exceptional Patient-Centered Care

GiraffeDo you know what patients really think of your healthcare organization? Do you care? What kind of experience did they have the last time they visited you? And how are they describing it all over the Internet to their friends?

To find out, Andrea Simon, Ph.D., President/Founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), advises in her recent article published by Hospital Impact, you’d do well to engage in mystery shopping, where you hire outside observers to take stock of everything from the friendliness of your receptionists to the cleanliness of your bathrooms.

This follows Dr. Simon’s last Hospital Impact article, in which she wrote about recent research—her own mystery shopping experience—that her firm conducted for a healthcare client, contacting various hospitals in the Northeast to better understand how they treated patients searching for cancer care options.

Her dismal findings raised questions about what healthcare leaders are missing if they really want to deliver the exceptional patient- and family-centered care they so often promise and promote. “Disappointingly, they seem unwilling to see, feel and think about their business with fresh eyes,” she writes.

Initial resistance to improving the patient experience

Following her research, Dr. Simon contacted a colleague who specializes in medical mystery shopping, Kris Baird. A registered nurse with more than 30 years’ experience in applying mystery shopping methods to healthcare environments, Kris shared with Dr. Simon the typical challenges she encounters, chronicled in the Hospital Impact article:

  • The attitude that good clinical care is enough: Many healthcare facilities think quality clinical care is adequate regardless of how a physician, nurse or technician interacts with a patient or family member.
  • Resistance to evaluation: Some workers don’t like being observed doing their job. A common retort: “I have to worry that every word I say is being observed by a mystery shopper?”
  • We already do things right: “We tell our staff to treat patients well so of course they do. What more is there?” This fear of seeing what really is rather than what you wish it to be is rather disturbing, yet all-too-often a major inhibitor.

How to see with fresh eyes what’s really going on inside your walls

What can a healthcare organization actually do to “see, feel and think” with greater clarity about the reality, not the mythology, of their patient experience, Dr. Simon asks?

Here are five areas commonly examined by mystery shoppers that can hospitals can try:

1. Phone: Call your own office phone (hospital, physician’s practice) with a typical patient need: a desire to learn more about your services, to make an appointment or to connect to a particular department. Before you call, write out a checklist of expectations you think should be the “standard of caring” that your phone operators and healthcare system should deliver. Check it out and see how they rate.

2. Admissions: Take a morning every month and go visit your admissions office. Take your expectations list with you, then sit and watch, listen and make notes about what you see happening.

3. Waiting room: Have you ever sat in your own waiting room? What is it like? Gracious and caring? Cold and irritating? What should it be like? What could you do better to create a caring atmosphere that those family and friends remember after they leave?

4. Shadowing: Take a morning and discreetly follow nurses or technicians in different departments. Make it a “game” and tell them you want to better understand their jobs and how they do them. Your job is to watch, listen and reflect on what you expect versus what you see.

5. Discharge: We remember most what happens last. Discharge is an often forgotten part of the entire patient experience. But this is when you want patients’ and their family members’ applause. Watch several discharges every month. Then let the patient and their family tell you their stories.

Undercover boss who can bring about true change

Since you’re the one who’s doing the observing, Dr. Simon advises, it’s difficult for your staff to criticize an outside consultant or to discount what you observed. Rather, the observations now become the raw material for you and your leadership team to change the experiences so they actually deliver the exceptional patient- and family-centered care your patients deserve—and that your marketing promised them.

Hopefully, Dr. Simon poses, your staff will soon rise to the standards of care you always thought they were doing when someone wasn’t watching.

To read Andrea Simon’s article in its entirety in Hospital Impact, click here.