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Summer 2022 - Vaccines

Implementing Personal Touch in the Healthcare Environment

HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS (HCPs) must have the right technical skills, medical knowledge and experience, but they are also expected to be empathetic, compassionate and trustworthy. Sadly, empathy may be eroding in the medical profession under the pressures of stress-inducing factors such as time demands and bureaucracy, not to mention the added weight of the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted many physicians’ bedside manner. But as researchers of a study that examined changes in medical students’ empathy during medical school explain, “Medicine at its core is a human service profession. Cultivating humanistic values in general and enhancing interpersonal skills and empathy in particular are of paramount importance in any human service endeavor.”1

So, how can facilities improve the HCP-patient experience? One way is by implementing patient-centered care with a personal touch.

What Patients Want

When patients experience the complex emotions associated with their healthcare needs, what they need most is compassionate, personalized care from a person who is concerned about and understands their unique situation. In fact, research shows that despite the technical quality of care delivered, provider empathy is the main indicator of whether a patient will be satisfied. Patients also perceive empathic care as technically better than less personal care.

A survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed 59 percent of patients reported that face-to-face time with their providers increased their engagement and satisfaction. Another study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, showed patients reported more satisfaction when providers took a minute to look away from their computers during patient visits. A total of 48 percent of patients in an encounter with high computer usage reported high satisfaction scores, while 81 percent of patients in an encounter with low computer usage reported the same scores.2

In the 2020 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers, the top four factors determining “an ideal healthcare experience,” which mirrored findings in a similar study on consumer priorities in 2016, were as follows:3

• 44 percent: Providers who listen to me and show they care about me

• 42 percent: Providers who spend time with me and do not rush through the exam

• 39 percent: Providers who clearly explain what they are doing during the exam and what I need to do after the visit

• 25 percent: Providers who communicate with each other and coordinate treatment

Challenges in the Healthcare Setting

The first step to improving the HCP-patient relationship is gaining a thorough understanding of the day-to-day challenges healthcare professionals face.

Today, HCPs feel pressured to forgo the “human” aspect of interactions and focus solely on meeting the physical needs of the patient in quick, efficient interactions. Despite their appreciation of the roller coaster of emotions patients experience, which is why they do their jobs (to make a positive difference in patients’ lives), HCPs are overworked and underpaid in an industry that’s underfunded and overused (some would even say abused). Worse, they are often pushed to the limits of their coping skills, as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.4

Other factors they face today that impact the HCP-patient relationship include caring for the growing number of chronically ill patients; managing patients with anxiety, depression and mental illness; keeping up with technology and its costs; using technology to engage patients; and getting paid what they’re worth as payment models shift from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance.5

Changes That Can Make a Difference: Modeling Other Programs

Communication and organizational culture play key roles in providing HCPs with the tools they need to improve the way they interact with patients.

One study published in the American Journal of Medical Quality examined a hospital-wide communication training program outlining best practices for doctors to follow in interactions with patients. The study found that by implementing the training program, the percentage of patients who “always” felt doctors carefully listened to them, treated them with respect and courtesy, and explained things in a way they could understand improved by 9 percent. Communication practices provided to the doctors included:6

• Basic courtesies such as knocking prior to entering exam rooms, closing door/curtain to ensure privacy, washing hands after entering the room, muting the TV, shaking hands with patients, sitting at eye level with patients, introducing team members to patients and family members, asking open-ended questions and more

• A format for bedside discussions that included getting observations from patients (e.g., pain levels, symptoms), checking patients’ vital signs and reporting relevant results of any exams or tests taken, and summarizing patients’ major health problems, their statuses (stable/improving/worsening) and treatment plans

• Summarizing findings and treatment plans in simple language, including the reason for their hospital admission, the plan for the day and when patients will come in again

• Scripted questions to ensure patients don’t have any questions or concerns about managing their condition or following their treatment plans

Equally if not more impressive is The Sharp Experience. In 1998, Sonia Rhodes, an executive at Sharp HealthCare where her father was being treated, “became an aggressive advocate for improving the patient experience — not the medical treatment, which was top-notch, but the service experience.” Working with a team of executives, they agreed on “The Sharp Experience: Creating the best place for employees to work, for physicians to practice and for patients to receive care — and ultimately the best healthcare system in the universe.” Seven years later, Sharp hospitals’ unit patient satisfaction scores increased in the national percentile rankings from as low as the teens to as high as the 90s. Physician satisfaction rose to the 80th percentile, employee satisfaction rose by 13 percent, turnover declined by 14 percent and net revenue increased by a half-billion dollars.

Today, The Sharp Experience consists of five elements: AIDET, behavior standards, five must-haves, leadership tools and pillars of excellence.

AIDET provides a framework for Sharp’s staff to communicate with patients and their families, as well as with each other. The acronym stands for Acknowledge: Greet people with a smile and use their names if you know them; Introduce: Introduce yourself to others politely, tell them who you are and how you are going to help them, and escort people where they need to go rather than pointing or giving directions; Duration: Keep in touch to ease waiting times, and let others know if there is a delay and how long it will be; Explanation: Advise others what you are doing, how procedures work and whom to contact if they need assistance, and communicate any steps they may need to take; Thank you: Foster an attitude of gratitude. Thank people for their patronage, help or assistance.

The 12 behavior standards — attitude is everything; reward and recognition; courteous communication; teamwork; service recovery; zero harm; appearance matters; service excellence; privacy and confidentiality; electronic communication matters; mutual respect; and diversity — provide a clear and simple description of exactly what is expected of every Sharp employee.

To ensure Sharp HealthCare is the best place to work, the best place to practice medicine and the best place to receive care, employees must exemplify the must-haves, five essential behaviors and actions in the workplace: 1) Greet people with a smile and “Hello,” using their name when possible; 2) Take people where they are going, rather than point or give directions; 3) Use key words at key times: “Is there anything else I can do for you? I have the time.”; 4) Foster an attitude of gratitude. Send thank-you notes to deserving employees; and 5) Round with reason to better connect with staff, patients, family and other customers.

The leadership tools are designed to inspire employees to stage their own meaningful experiences for their customers. And, lastly, the pillars of excellence — quality, safety, service, people, finance, growth, community — are the foundation to transform the healthcare experience.

Benefits of Personal Touch

Without a doubt, there are many challenges that can prevent unique HCP-patient experiences. But, by following the direction of others who have managed to overcome those challenges, gratification is likely to be gained by both HCPs and their patients.

References

1. Kerasidou A, Bærøe K, Berger Z, and Caruso Brown AE. The Need for Empathetic Healthcare Systems. Journal of Medical Ethics, 2021;47:e27. Accessed at jme.bmj.com/content/47/12/e27.

2. Patient Satisfaction and HCAHPS: What It Means for Providers. Patient Engagement, May 24, 2016. Accessed at patientengage menthit.com/features/patient-satisfaction-and-hcahps-what-it-means-for-providers.

3. Betts D, Korenda L, Giuliani S, et al. Are Consumers Already Living the Future of Health? Deloitte, Aug. 13, 2020. Accessed at www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/ consumer-health-trends.html.

4. Rediscovering the Human Touch in Healthcare. PMLive, June 8, 2021. Accessed at www.pmlive.com/pmhub/healthcare_ advertising/page_and_page/white_papers_and_resources/ rediscovering_the_human_touch_in_healthcare.

5. Gopal S. Top Five Challenges Facing Doctors Right Now. Accessed at endia.com/resources/insights/top-five-challenges.

6. SAGE. Study Reveals Proven Ways to Improve Doctor-Patient Communication. Science News, Feb. 13, 2017. Accessed at www. sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170223092132.htm.

7. Sharp. The Sharp Experience. Accessed at www.sharp.com/ about/the-sharp-experience.

Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS
Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS, is the Senior Editor-in-Chief of BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.