Hospitals try to deliver the best health outcomes. That's a given. But many also aim to deliver high levels of customer service. On that latter goal, healthcare systems are falling short. Here's why: Truly improving service demands a culture that intentionally champions a focus on the patient.
Managers must be equipped to drive employee engagement in their departments.
What healthcare systems urgently need are clear intentions and strategies at the leadership level. These will determine whether a service mindset can exist within a hospital. What's more, getting employees engaged and connected to this mission will ultimately determine whether they live out that mindset each day.
Gallup has found that a service-centered culture requires:
It's difficult to execute any vision for change in a service-oriented industry -- even when leaders clearly communicate it to the organization -- without an engaged and motivated workforce. Healthcare systems with a strong service-oriented culture recruit and hire people who fit that culture and begin sharing the vision during the recruitment phase and through orientation and onboarding.
A healthcare system must implement regular feedback mechanisms in the early stages of a healthcare professional's tenure. The organization should check in with new hires after 30, 60, and 90 days, using these opportunities to assess whether the recruit is adapting to and thriving in the organization's culture. The healthcare system should also continue to provide ongoing training and development, giving refresher courses about the vision and culture every 12 to 18 months. With leadership's support, these engaged employees become ambassadors for the patients' priorities.
After proper onboarding, a healthcare system must align its human resources policies to encourage service excellence and hold employees accountable to the standards. Managers must be equipped to drive employee engagement in their departments and held accountable for action planning and knowledge sharing. Aligning these activities with the hospital's larger strategic plan and organization-wide goals is crucial and should be transparent from leadership down to the front line. One of the greatest challenges in any modern and multi-location system is that pockets of excellence exist, but best practices are rarely shared across units. Maintaining open and intentionally structured communication is a means to spread great customer service across an organization.
As in other service-based industries, consistency is key. A patient may interact with many areas of a hospital over the course of an inpatient stay, a series of tests, or a surgery. Receiving fantastic service in one area and mediocre service from another lowers a patient's perception of the overall experience he or she has had.
Finally, every hospital must have a built-in mechanism for improving performance. Building performance improvement teams and using the Plan, Do, Check, Act model can help ensure that performance improvement is an understood and respected part of the culture.
What strong service cultures do right
Improving the patient experience is about changing a hospital's culture.
Healthcare systems that can achieve a patient-focused service culture take improving the patient experience as seriously as improving financial and clinical outcomes. Gallup's studies of healthcare systems that have built a strong service culture yield some dominating themes:
Senior leadership's responsibility
Improving the patient experience is about changing a hospital's culture, and this change is the single most powerful and legacy-defining step a leader can take to improve the care for a community. Senior leadership must not only take responsibility to make the patient experience a priority but also must allocate the necessary time and resources to make this focus a reality. Without this backing and accountability, any efforts to improve the patient experience will not succeed.
This article is adapted from one originally published in Middle East Health. Reprinted with permission.