Outstanding Patient Experience: Create Through Communication | #peopleskills

Outstanding Patient Experience: When You Don’t Know How to Answer

As healthcare organizations become bigger and busier, more communication with patients is delegated throughout the organization. Even in individual medical offices, it is common for doctors to ask nurses and assistants to communicate test results and next steps to patients.

Then it happens. The patient asks questions that the nurses or assistants don’t know how to answer. What now?

Outstanding Patient Experience: Image is diverse healthcare professionals.

Outstanding Patient Experience. Image by Sean Locke.

Image by Sean Locke.

Outstanding Patient Experience: When You Don’t Know How to Answer

A Recent Patient Experience

    The rheumatologist had drawn blood to assess the new patient’s symptoms. When the blood work came back with high inflammation makers, the doctor asked a staff member to call the patient and tell her that her inflammation markers were very high. It was extremely important that the patient come to her follow-up appointment.

    The doctor’s assistant called the patient and told her that her inflammation markers were very high and it was essential that she not miss her next appointment. The patient felt very scared. She asked: “What are inflammation markers? What’s going to happen to me? How serious is this?”

    The assistant then replied: “I just told you. Your inflammation markers are very high. Just make sure you show up!” And then she hung up on the patient.

Horrible patient care! Horrible people skills! Can you imagine how the patient felt at that moment being treated so poorly?

People Skills for Outstanding Patient Experience: DOs & Don’ts

The Don’ts

  • Get defensive and curt with the patients as this doctor’s assistant did
  • Bluntly report findings without preparing to answer patients’ questions
  • Hang up the phone or leave the room
  • Order or patronize patients

The DOs

  • Prepare before calling the patient. “First, before even getting on the phone, think like the patient”, says Doug Della Pietra, Director, Customer Services & Volunteers, Rochester General Hospital. Anticipate the patient’s reaction and then “request additional information from the doctor about how to respond and what additional information to share or not share.”
  • Empathize throughout the interaction. Verbalizing your empathy is key. It’s not enough just to feel it. You must share it with the patients. “Breaking not-so-good news in medicine is a very sensitive issue and it entails an extra dose of empathy and compassion,” says Dr. Gia Sison, Physician, Healthcare Influencer, and Breast Cancer Survivor.
  • Communicate don’t transact. You are interacting with humans on the most sensitive issue they have — their health and survival. Barking out orders (e.g. show up for your next appointment) is rude and ineffective. Remember, you are not just transacting business. Your goal is to deliver outstanding patient experience as you impact human lives psychologically and physically.
  • Listen and be flexible. Communication is not one-way. It’s two way or no way. Instead of calling patients to report and then hang up, listen to their questions and be ready to offer alternatives. “Hearing the patient’s concern, the Medical Assistant could have offered to take a message to the doctor or asked the patient if they would prefer to come in sooner”, says Christina Steele, Medical Programs Training Manager, Dorsey Schools.

Being busy is no excuse for being insensitive and rude. If you choose to work in healthcare, you are choosing to be kind and compassionate for outstanding patient experience.

Doctors and practice owners/managers, prepare your staff before you delegate patient communication. Help them anticipate patient reactions and questions. Guide them on how to respond with clarity and care.

Moreover, give them people skills training on how to deliver outstanding patient experience. Contrary to popular thought, it’s not just common sense. It takes training just like any other skill. The payoff? It increases the chance that patients will follow your medical advice and be healthier in the end. I would be most pleased to deliver my in service people skills training to your healthcare teams for outstanding patient experience.

What do you expect when you are the patient?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Outstanding Patient Experience: The Slam Bam Mammogram?
12 Reasons Leaders (Doctors) Communicate Poorly

©2016 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.


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I invite your questions, welcome your wisdom, and look forward to working with you.
~Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

6 Responses to “Outstanding Patient Experience: Create Through Communication | #peopleskills”

  1. […] Outstanding Patient Experience: When You Don’t Know How to Answer  […]

  2. Very good advice, Kate. Last week, I had a similar experience but on the positive side. I waited 14 days for my oncologist’s office to return my phone call about a recent catscan. I finally got through to a nurse who understood the anxiety in my voice and quickly contacted the doctor to let him release the welcoming positive news to me. Then, she proceeded to inquire who I spoke with that may have not relayed the information of the urgency of my call.

  3. Alli Polin says:

    Excellent, Kate. At the end of last year I had some complications after surgery and every day I went to my doctor’s office where his assistant changed my bandages. Every day I asked if it was healing well and brought my concerns forward. I also asked why my doctor was never around and why, after performing the surgery, he never even called to check in knowing I was having issues. By Friday I was far less polite and put my needs front and center. I needed to hear from my doctor, I could no longer accept that his assistant was the only person he needed to speak with about my care. That Saturday morning he finally called.

    I expect my doctor to speak with me directly, help resolve concerns and be involved with my care – not simply delegate it. Great post, Kate! A must-read for healthcare providers everywhere.

    ~ Alli

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Amen to that Alli! Delegating care is not the kind of care I’m looking for either. It is one of the reasons I am blogging more about patient care and patient experience.

      Many thanks for offering your story here as a strong example.


  4. Khalid says:

    Thank you so much Kate for your valuable posts.

    I relate so much to Alli’s example. I had two different t experienced from two different dentists. The first one was a lady who did an operation to my son and the plan was to remove two teeth. When we received my son after the operation I discovered she took 3 instead without taking our approval. Plus she didn’t show up and left the clinic leaving us with the nurses and my crying son. I was so furious and decided not to go back to her and started to bad mouth her.

    On the contrary I had a similar operation with another doctor to my daughter and the doctor came to her right after the operation and gave us his personal number in case of emergencies when we take her back home!

    Two completely different experiences but far between the first and the second.


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