From People to Pets— The Patient Experience Matters

Lately I have been making it a priority to write down all the experiences I have so I can remember the detail and use these stories to share with you! I found this day to be a unique experience as I was undergoing two patient experiences at the same time. One I was present for and one that I had to check in on.

I travel a lot and it’s a rare occasion I am home with some ‘free’ time.  During one of these far and few between times, my grandpa was going in for eye surgery.  Additionally, my grandmother had been experiencing some severe pain in her hip which she needed to see a doctor for. Unfortunately, her appointment was on the same day as my grandfather’s surgery. My grandpa had help but my grandmother needed a ride into the city for her appointment so I volunteered to take her.

In order for me to do this I had to shuffle my dog’s vet appointment around which couldn’t be changed at the last-minute and if I didn’t get him there then he would miss his four-month shot. It all worked out in the end as I magically realized that Uber existed (how I didn’t think of this before is beyond me–lol) and that meant my nanny could take my dog to the vet!

My grandma is 93 years old. She is still active and if it wasn’t for this ‘darn hip’ (as she likes to put it) she is in perfect health. We arrived at the hospital, walked to the reception area where we needed to register her for her appointment.

We were met by a stone cold faced woman who didn’t even look up from her computer. She asked (in the most monotone voice I have ever heard) for my grandmother’s health card. And when my grandmother had trouble getting the card out of her wallet the lady looked up with a huff and rolled her eyes. My grandma (who is the most pleasant woman you would ever meet) met her eyes and smiled; the woman behind the desk remained stone cold. She proceeded to tell us to ‘sit over there’ and pointed to a row of chairs.

We sat and waited, and waited some more. About 45 minutes later someone called “Mrs. Bates” from a doorway around the corner. As I was helping my grandma up the young man called her name again this time with an impatient undertone to his voice. We were not greeted or smiled at; instead we were walked to a secondary waiting room.

We finally went in for her visit with the doctor which was a better experience than what we had just gone through but it stopped there. My grandmother needed to get some blood work done to rule out infection and we had to go back to the reception to order a MRI and Bone Scan. As you can imagine this would be overwhelming for a 93-year-old and I could tell it was effecting my grandma. When we got to reception a different stone cold woman abruptly told us to complete the form for the MRI request (which we didn’t know we needed to do) and with no offer of assistance she turned us away. I went back and forth with questions as I completed the form. When we were done and the forms had been faxed we were told to go to the fifth floor for the blood work and so we did. We took the first elevator we saw up to the fifth floor where it was clear that we were in the wrong place. Back down we went, clarified which elevator to take and headed on our way. The experience continued in this manor until the blood work was complete and we exited the building.

As I walked back to the car with my grandma I started to imagine how these visits go when my 82-year-old grandfather brings her.

I feel very passionate about the patient experience. People are often in their most vulnerable state at a doctors office and there is rarely an attempt to show compassion, make patients feel comfortable. The medical system often treats patients like a transaction! These experiences need to go from transaction to an interaction, and heck maybe even a pleasant experience.  The entire experience with my grandmother could have been completed flipped around by a few simple actions:

 

  1. Smiling:

A smile is contagious, when a patient is visiting your facility greet them with a smile, smile throughout the interaction meeting your eyes with theirs when you are talking with them.

  1. Use the patient’s name:

To that person, their name is the sweetest word in the human language which instantly connects them to you and your practice. A rule of thumb in hospitality (which should be adopted in the medical industry) is as soon as you have the guest’s name you must use it. For example, when a patient checks in for an appointment the receptionist is given their name! How hard is it to say “Good morning Mrs. Bates, may I please have your health card?”. Patient’s don’t expect you to remember their name or magically know it before they give it to you but when you do receive this knowledge it is your duty to use it. Patient’s will feel much more at ease. The use of their name will quickly decrease patient’s nerves making the interaction personalized and more genuine.

  1. Anticipate the patient’s needs:

For example, the receptionist knew that the fifth floor for blood work was difficult to find (she probably gets the same question a 100 times a day) she could make the patient’s experience much smoother by anticipating their needs and showing them which elevator they need to take to get to the fifth floor. There are so many ways to anticipate a patient’s needs; patients will tell you what they need if you are listening. If you are interacting with patients pay attention to the golden nuggets patients give you then use this information to anticipate their needs.

  1. Ask if there is anything else you can do for them:

Nine times out of ten the patient will say “I am ok, thank you”. But there may be that one time you can step up and be a hero by asking this question and giving the patient a voice. Simply asking this question tells the patient you care about their needs. This is always a great lasting impression as well.

 

Phew, ok from one terrible experience to an AWESOME one! On the flip side my puppy had his vet visit where the experience made the opposite impression on me.

When I got home after dropping my grandma off I received the nicest follow up email from my Vet. This is what it said:

 

“Hi Katie and Marcel,

I just saw Shadow with the whole gang and he’s looking great. I found nothing of any concern on physical exam. I was told that he’s not eating as much as before, but we had been using liver treats over top of the food in the past. In my opinion his weight is perfect, but if he’s always turning his nose up, then just switching foods is a good first step. I wrote a small list of good brands – which included royal canin, performatrin, and nutro. At this stage always selecting a puppy food WITH grains is important. There have been recent reports from the FDA about heart disease in dogs who are on grain free foods – so best to avoid.

 

Please write or call back if you had any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Dr. Spencer Burley”

 

I wasn’t even there and I could feel how much he cared about shadow and my family. Then my kids confirmed this feeling by telling me how great the visit was. They got stickers, had fun weighing Shadow (our dog) and they even got to pet Blue the vet cat!

Even though I wasn’t there physically the care Dr. Burley took after the visit to inform me of how it went increased my trust in him and the clinic. I could also see the smiles on my kids’ faces and the wagging of Shadow’s tail when I got home!

It doesn’t take a lot to leave a lasting impression both positive or negative. You just have to ask yourself which one you are leaving with your patients.

 

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