7 Ways to Prepare Your Staff for Better Patient Interactions

There’s one key element of successful healthcare organizations that many administrators overlook: patient interactions and satisfaction.

November 3, 2017
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Most hospital administrators find themselves spending most of their time reviewing internal policies and procedures, investing in new technologies, and changing operations to improve capacity and profitability. But there’s one key element of successful healthcare organizations that many administrators overlook: patient interactions and satisfaction.

But why is this so important, and how can you improve outcomes among your staff members?

Why Patient Interactions Matter

Patient interactions matter because they have a direct bearing on patient satisfaction, which in turn plays a role in three major areas:

  • Clinical outcomes. Happy patients are more likely to follow your advice, and see positive outcomes from their visits.
  • Patient retention. Satisfied patients will likely stick with your organization, rather than seeking help elsewhere.
  • Malpractice claims. Patients who associate your organization with positive feelings and experiences are much less likely to file for malpractice.

Tips for Better Interaction Training

So what can you do to improve training for your staff to maximize patient interaction value?

  1. Consider using standardized patients. First, consider using standardized patients as a kind of training ground (and evaluative process) for your staff members. For newcomers, standardized patients serve as an exercise in both diagnosis and bedside manner, and for experienced professionals, they serve as a kind of “secret shopper” for the industry. These insider patients are trained to behave like real patients, with lifelike symptoms, but will be able to calmly evaluate the interactions they receive and give feedback based on those experiences.
  2. Prepare for a variety of scenarios. Next, make sure to have differentiated training in place, as not all patients require the same type and level of interaction. Someone who was just in a car accident, for example, will be especially distressed compared to someone who’s been dealing with a low level of chronic pain for the past several weeks. Older patients require different care than younger patients, and your staff should be equipped to deal with people in many different emotional states.
  3. Include multiple interactions every visit. There are many roles in your organization, including doctors, nurses, and dozens of support-related positions. If you focus only on your doctors, or only on your nurses, you’re going to miss out on several impactful opportunities for interaction. Your staff should be trained to provide experiences at multiple levels, and in multiple ways; everyone in the building should be equipped with patient service skills.
  4. Work on building long-term patient relationships. Your best patients are going to be ones that you have a history with, so train your staff to focus on building long-term relationships. This is hard to train for, but relatively easy to execute; simple touches, like having personal conversations, and spending a few extra minutes taking and answering questions can make a big difference to a patient. If they feel heard, respected, and valued, they’re going to be far more likely to keep returning, and your patient relationships will build themselves.
  5. Allow more patient control. Focus groups indicate that patients are more satisfied when they feel they have at least some control over their environments. Accordingly, you can train your staff and adjust your environments to allow for more patient control. This includes anything from giving patients more options (such as choosing which waiting room to use) to giving patients more environmental controls.
  6. Consider offering multiple types of brand experience. You can remove some of the burdens on your staff members by offering brand experiences that exist outside of your main building. For example, you could have a thriving social media presence that engages with your patients on a regular basis, or a content campaign committed to providing more information to your customer base. You could even have a separate hotline or method of communication for patients who need answers to quick questions, or who otherwise want an interaction without scheduling a full appointment.
  7. Collect and review patient feedback. These strategies all help prepare your staff for better interactions, but there’s only one way to tell for sure whether those strategies are working: collecting and reviewing patient feedback. Make sure to use surveys and other modes of gathering information at multiple stages of the process, and pay attention to subjective comments left by your patients. A thorough review should be able to illuminate not only how you’re improving over time, but which areas specifically require more improvement (and possibly, how to go about improving them).
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These key strategies will help you improve the execution, monitoring, and measuring of your staff’s patient interactions. Whether you set this up as an initiative for new hires, or apply it as additional training for your existing team, you should see positive effects within weeks to months of your rollout.