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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hospitals Must Hold Private Contractors Accountable for Delivering on Patient Experience

Just before the holidays, a colleague received word that her best friend’s two-year old daughter had been found unresponsive in her crib. She was revived and rushed to the hospital with life-saving measures underway. But the news was not good. The child had gone without oxygen for too long.

My friend, Chris, dropped everything to get to her best friend’s side. She sat in the hospital with the anguished parents for the next 24 hours, watching an endless parade of doctors and nurses running tests, conducting evaluations, trying to comfort the hopeful mother and father. Sadly, the little girl died.

I can’t begin to imagine the depth of grief that the parents and four-year old brother of this young girl are experiencing; just seeing the raw pain etched in Chris’ face brought me to tears as well.

The doctors and nurses in our hospitals are cast in these real life dramas every day. And, occasionally, despite their most heroic efforts, some patients don’t survive. But the intensity of their clinical efforts combined with caring and compassion, are essential to healing the wounded hearts of the families and friends left behind.

A child’s death is not the ‘patient experience’ we want to address in our brand and patient satisfaction discussions, but it was nonetheless the ‘experience’ that this family endured. They will remember the kindness of the staff.

When Chris reluctantly left her friends’ side to return home to her own family, she walked to the hospital parking garage (which is run by an outsourced contractor) to retrieve her car only to learn from the attendant that “this lot closed at 6 pm.”

“Can I just get my keys?” asked Chris. “I need to go home.”

Learning that the keys were sent elsewhere at 6 pm, she treks in the frigid evening air to another building on an unfamiliar campus to retrieve keys from another attendant that began to lecture her about the rules and regulations of the parking garage.

“Can you cut me a break?” she pleaded, “I’ve been with a dying child.” Then she got her keys, walked back to the garage, and drove home to hug her own kids.

The moral of the story? Everyone, from the highly specialized doctor to the parking attendant, creates experiences that live in our customers’ memories. When a parking attendant is inconvenienced rather than sensitive to the harried, worried, hurried, sad or pained needs that characterize families and visitors of the hospitalized, he or she tarnishes your brand. Outsourced operators that touch patients and visitors need to be held to the same expectations of customer care, concern and service.


cjbryant said...

Wow. What a gut wrenching story, but with such an important message -- everything matters when it comes to the patient experience and your brand. These are the stories that every healthcare executive needs to hear, and then understand from their team how the organization is designing and managing the patient experience - and their brand - from end to end.

My heart goes out to Chris and the family of the little girl. I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers.

Allison Sherwat said...

When my son, then 10 weeks old, was in the children's hospital, it was a time of incredible worry for my husband and me. No doubt we had many wonderful doctors, but I always remember the kindness of the night nurse who checked on me as I stayed by my son's bed to see if there was anything I needed, a blanket, a pillow, a cup of hot chocolate. She knew that while my son was the patient, hospitalizations are a family experience. Those are the stories you tell your friends.

Kristi Peterson said...

A poignant story that makes a very important point. It also hinges on a major concern of mine, thus an editorial comment first. We get so caught up in collecting patient satisfaction data (and feeding on percentile results) that the voice of the customer isn't heard. The numbers do the talking. The relative impact of contracted service providers on the experience is overlooked. It is challenging to capture meaningful feedback on some of these services (such as the one featured). The last thing that's needed is another survey to monitor the performance. Who experiences the customer's frustration, disgust and dismay? Employees. It's important to collect their ideas.

In terms of holding contract service providers accountable for contributing to the patient/customer experience - build into your contracts/reviews the expectations that they will:

1) regularly capture feedback from front-line employees (e.g., "What procedures/policies create confusion, inconvenience, dissatisfaction for customers?") and internal departments/stakeholders (as appropriate);
2) reinforce employee communication/service skills through training/coaching;
3) adopt and hold their employees accountable for your service standards;
4) report at least quarterly one service improvement they have instituted; and that
5) executive/manager representatives of contract service firm will regularly visit to watch, listen to, touch and smell your customers. That's the only way they can get a taste... Correction, if they mystery shopped their own services, they would get a better taste of what the service experience is really like, for customers and employees alike!

We should all spend time being underground bosses.

Karen Corrigan said...

Kristi, this is great advice - would you mind if I repost it? Thanks so much.


Kristi Peterson said...

Please feel free to use again.

Theresa said...

Thanks for making me cry on a Monday morning, Karen:-( It's amazing how one experience like this can do so much damage to a hospital's brand. What a powerful reminder that Marketing is Everyone's job and that even contractors are a part of the patient experience.