The secret to improving “the patient experience” is delivering what the patient wants most in every physician encounter.
- Clinical excellence? Yes, certainly. (That’s sort of a given.)
- A friendly smile? Sure.
- Empathy? Naturally.
- Authoritative confidence? Yep.
- Eye contact. Connectivity booster.
These are all important elements in the patient experience mix. But consider that the typical doctor-patient visit is only 13 to 16 minutes, according to the 2016 Physician Compensation Report from Medscape.
Patients say their primary expectation—and the cornerstone to perfecting the patient experience—is having a doctor who listens to them. [What Do People Want from Their Health Care? A Qualitative Study, Journal of Participatory Medicine, Wen & Tucker, Research, Vol. 7, 2015]
It turns out that patients most often value a doctor’s “soft skills,” with listening and communications at the top of the list. “Most people commented on the importance of a doctor who listens, cares, and explains issues to patients. Several studies have shown that, when choosing doctors, patients rarely mention technical expertise, but rather concentrate on empathy and ability to provide clear explanations.”
The most basic human needs…
A pioneer in understanding the importance of listening, author Ralph G. Nichols, provides this premise and fundamental insight: “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
One of the most common barriers to listening for understanding is that nearly everyone is thinking about what they are going to say in reply. It’s a common habit for all of us, but it’s a critical disconnect during a doctor-patient face-to-face. Perhaps the physician (who may believe he or she has “heard it all before”) wants to cut to the chase; the 16-minute timer is ticking.
And that leads to another critical stumbling block: making a quick assumption. The better course—to take a bit of advice from the retail world—is to get to take the time to truly know the customer. Ask questions. Understand their personal value system. And don’t assume that their needs and expectations are a replay of dozens of previous patients. You might be right, but the better outcome is that you might be surprised.
Understand what you’re really selling…
When the physician believes he is selling a solution to a medical need, it’s only part of the patient’s expectations. Delivering an exceptional patient experience includes allowing the consumer-patient to be heard. Taking a page from an unlikely source, consider the viewpoint of Debbi Fields, the founder and spokesperson of Mrs. Fields Bakeries.
“I’ve never felt like I was in the cookie business. I’ve always been in a feel good feeling business. My job is to sell joy. My job is to sell happiness. My job is to sell an experience.”
OK…Debbie lives in a cookie-centric world. But the sentiment is useful to the patient-physician encounter. Happiness is the one and only reason people buy healthcare. And ultimately, listening is the path of discovery that perfects the patient experience in 16 minutes or less.
RELATED READING: See these additional articles for additional insight.
- Magic Questions: The Path to Case Acceptance and Compliance
- Improving Patient Experience with One Short Phrase
- Patient Experience and The Lost Art of Listening