Patient experience tip: Forget customer service and show sincerity

It's been seven weeks since my odyssey to heal a badly fractured wrist began, and I'm happy to report that it's just about over. Through this journey, I've made stops to numerous healthcare settings. There was of course the emergency department, followed by an orthopedic practice, onto ambulatory surgery, back to the clinic, over to occupational therapy, clinic, therapy, clinic, therapy, and in between a few trips accompanying loved ones to other kinds of medical appointments.

I am beyond fortunate to experience a mere healthcare hassle rather than crisis, but would like to highlight the pieces of these interactions that made the ordeal more bearable:

Teams built on mutual respect. The opposite isn't pretty, but all too common. For example, the morning I gave birth to my second child, a few days after a stomach bug that left me dehydrated, two nurses were having difficulty getting my IV started and openly in conflict about whether to call in a superior for help. Their behavior was anything but patient-centered, and for seven years has stayed prominently filed in the "Are you kidding me?!?" section of my memory. I've been similarly turned off by seeing physicians talk down to nurses, or employees roll their eyes while listening to a coworker over the phone. The consequence of that type of tension isn't just a bad impression; it can also be a dangerous distraction from patient care. But anecdotally, I've seen recent signs that the health industry's push toward teamwork is in fact seeping into the culture of medicine. As a patient, to be seen and treated in an environment where people smile and speak kindly not just to you, but to one another, makes for a strikingly superior experience. At every one of my aforementioned stops in getting my wrist treated, I saw this type of synergy. Of course, colleagues may not agree or even like one another at all times. When I visited a practice intentionally for research purposes back in February, I came to learn that playing relationship counselor when team members don't get along can be a significant part of a practice manager's job, even after taking care to hire for cultural fit. Should practice managers have to sit grown people down and remind them to carefully choose their words with each other? In a perfect world, no. But from the very sincere, family-like vibe I felt while being in that office, I can at least tell you it seems to be working.

Direct, honest communication. As a health writer or a patient, I really love when a doctor speaks simply. Personally, I'd prefer brusque speech over that which is manufactured to be politically and technically correct. Take the following physician explanation for recommending antibiotics for an uncertain case of pneumonia, for example: "You've already had so much imaging you're going to start glowing. Instead of another X-ray, my gut is telling me to treat you. I wouldn't normally push antibiotics, but given your history it's what I recommend in this case." I appreciate these words for the risk-benefit analysis behind them, for the plain language and mostly for the phrase, "my gut is telling me." She didn't say, "my tablet is telling me" or "your chart is telling me." I'm not saying a doctor's intuition is always the best decision-aid to follow, but it's certainly refreshing to see the source revealed. Whether or not you like this particular example, I think it debunks some myths that medical communication can't be concise or that an informal tone lacks authority. At the end of the day, it's sincerity that will make the most impression. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)