The evolution of my personal customer service journey or patient experience quest began at home. It started with a brief conversation with my wife after returning home from a very challenging shift at one of our emergency departments. The details are somewhat blurry, but I remember my wife saying in passing “I wish you could bring some of that cheerful customer service stuff home.”
This comment sliced deep, unleashing regret and frustration. Shouldn’t something that motivates or inspires also energize? The essence of a person shouldn’t be defined by his location or current situation. I should be the same person at both the hospital and home. I shouldn’t feel “spent,” after a long shift, leaving my family the scraps of my emotions and time. Why had I gotten into medicine in the first place? What motivated me in the areas of customer service or patient experience? What had changed?
It all started a few years back. I was a concerned physician who often went the “extra mile," following up on discharge ED patients or with the families of the lost. There was an inner motivation, a flame that was not easily quenched with long shifts, difficult patients or the perilous navigation of healthcare. Being respectable was easy because it simply came with doing the right thing. Doing the right thing quickly catapulted me into a position of leadership in the area of customer service.
In my expanded role, a difficult-to-describe, innate process now had to be replicated for the masses in the name of core measures and ACA benchmarks. It was like asking a guy that loves to fish to “teach everyone what you know and make sure they like to fish when its over.” As a motivated young physician, I took the bull by the horns, focusing on best practices, 5 step processes, and key words. The innate became less innate as the focus shifted more on the process and less on the patient. It was an exhausting journey with many short lived triumphs, and at some point I found that I had changed paths. My path no longer focused on the patient, but instead on numeric goals and initiatives.
Sometimes brief moments have a huge impact on the trajectory of your life. I was fortunate to have had my encounter on that warm summer evening in East Texas. My wife’s words in passing had re-adjusted my focus in the blink of an eye. It was as if I had been sitting in a dark room and someone turned on the lights, illuminating the obvious. What had motivated and inspired my patient care had not been the process, but the patient.
This is true of any good nurse or physician: what motivates us to stay late and hold the hand of a dying patient, or go to the store and buy socks for the indigent in need is never the process or the numbers … it’s the patient. The process is only there as a tool in our arsenal of healthcare. A focus on the individual we are serving and on looking for opportunities to make a difference fuels and invigorates healthcare workers rather than creating fatigue and frustration.
In an ever evolving metropolis of healthcare, one thing holds constant: that pillar in the center of our industry is the patient. Vital to our success is the ability to centrally focus on the simple, while understanding the adjunct power of the process.