How patients and their caregivers are treated by the staff at their doctor's office or during a hospital encounter make a big difference in how comfortable they feel while they're there and whether or not they'll return.
In How to Put Patients First, Courtney Hummel encourages health care organizations to "recognize their employees for their fundamental role in the patient experience." Hummel quotes Paul Spiegelman and Britt Berret who describe the connection between employee engagement and a positive patient experience:
"The patient experience centers around the story you tell your spouse when you get home from your appointment. Nobody comes home after a surgery saying, 'Man, that was the best suturing I've ever seen!' or, 'Sweet, they took out the correct kidney!' Instead, we talk about the people who took care of us, the ones who coordinated the whole procedure – everyone from the receptionist to the nurses to the surgeon."
On MedPage Today, Rosemarie Nelson says, "Your front office staff are the face of your practice – an expression of your practice's philosophy, attitude and values." She says it's important to hire and keep good front office staff since they are the first people to greet patients in your office, answer and manage the phones and do all the scheduling. How? By paying friendly, competent staff members more money. It's a win-win, Nelson says, because patients notice when office staff are willing to go out of their way to provide excellent service and make accommodations.
Heather Thiessen had a less-than-warm experience while trying to schedule a date for surgery. When she tried to explain why she was unable to accept the first two dates that the receptionist offered, the receptionist snipped back, "Everyone has a story," telling Thiessen that she would be moved to the bottom of the waiting list if she couldn't accept one of the dates. Undeterred, Thiessen took her story to the main scheduler who was able to plan her surgery for a date that worked.
"The office staff, in my opinion, are the most important people on the healthcare team, and they need to be trained to believe this," writes Dr. Beth Nash on her blog Care Triad. She was greeted rudely by a receptionist who said Beth was 45 minutes late and that the doctor now couldn't see her till the end of the day. After the receptionist realized it had been her mistake in looking at the schedule, she did not offer Nash an apology. Nash says, "If [she] had just treated me with respect, we both would have had better afternoons."
CFAH President Jessie Gruman asks how, in a culture where disrespect can be commonplace, will we be invited to participate in our care?
"Most of us have had some experience with all these varieties of disrespect. But reading the details about the effects of physician disrespect on the operation of hospitals and practices and the functioning of colleagues and staff is chilling. This behavior distorts relationships. It contributes to an atmosphere of intimidation and damages their willingness to be accountable, undermines cooperation, and ultimately distracts them from delivering good care..."
What have your experiences been with good or bad front office staff?
Read more posts from these authors on their blogs. Courtney Hummel is the Performance Manager for Emmi Solutions and blogs on Engaging the Patient. Rosemarie Nelson, MS, is Principal of MGMA Health Care Consulting Group and blogs on Practice Pointers. Health care consultant Beth Nash, MD, blogs on Care Triad.