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3 Tips to Boost Patient Experience Scores Right Now

In my continued work with healthcare systems I understand the urgency to improve patient experience. I mean, it makes sense! Why wouldn’t we want to embrace and treat patients with the utmost value and respect? After all, they are the ones who make healthcare possible. Without patients, healthcare would have no purpose or reason to exist. Who would doctors and nurses treat? In the many strategic work sessions I’ve done with different healthcare groups I’ve found a common thread. Nearly every staff member I’ve worked with got into the medical field for one reason: to help people. This is a no brainer, right? Of course people flock to the medical field to help people! The business is to save lives!

And yet, in the different environments I’ve both worked with staff and been a patient myself, it seems, at times, people in the medical field forget why they’re there. I’ve rarely seen (or experienced) terrible treatment of patients; however, I have both seen and felt the vitriol and tension pouring out of the seams of medical staff toward one another. Whether people want to admit it or not, how medical staff treat one another directly impacts HCAHPS scores. What staff is (or isn’t) saying is also being acted out through body language, tone, facial expressions, and ultimately at the expense of patient experience. This can be seen, felt and experienced by patients; it seeps into the care they’re getting!

So, whether we like it or not, HCAHPS scores are being impacted because of work culture. Now, I’ve spent years partnering with organizations to improve culture based on their needs and I understand more than anyone, changing culture is a complex process. What works for one organization will not work for another. Work cultures are as unique as our fingerprints! This is because work culture is shaped by our own unique perspectives, beliefs, and ways of being in the workplace. There is no “quick fix” in culture work, and culture change begins with each individual. However, there are three things that you (yes, you who is reading this) can try right now to begin to make an impact. These are quick tips to creating a more #FearlessCulture where you work and to helping you get the HCAHPS scores you want at a faster rate!


For leaders and employees, hospitals and doctor’s offices can be a constant barrage of to-do tasks. These tasks can literally have life or death consequences and to top it off people are also being asked to do more with less. If this resonates with you, good! Because one thing you can do right now (or next time you’re feeling the push to hurry up and get from task to task) is to breathe. Take 30 seconds to breathe. I’m not talking about the shallow breathing you may find yourself doing when you are under the stress of the 101 things you need to do. I’m talking about taking a big breath of fresh air. Notice the air coming into your abdomen, helping it to expand. Then, breathe out and notice your abdomen contracting. This is a simple task that helps you to become present and mindful. The best part about it is it doesn’t take any extra time (cause, you know, you’re already breathing). Then, when someone you work with interrupts your day with something unexpected, breathe. When Jimmy John shows up to work late, breathe. When your coworker moves something, and you can’t find it, breathe. It’s the pause that you want before interacting with someone else that will really make a difference in your culture, and ultimately the experience of the patients in your facility.

Imagine everyone as children

We are all just children doing the best we can! Okay, so you might feel a little silly imagining your 60-year-old boss as a child-but do it anyway. We are all generally trying to make it the best way we know how in this world (and yes- some people have better coping skills than others). Even bullies are trying to cope by offloading their simmering undercurrent of pain onto others. The thing is, whenever someone else says or does something to you- it’s never about you, it’s about them! I know this is counterintuitive. However, my expertise in communication and emotional intelligence has taught me that even when someone is treating you in a way that doesn’t meet your needs, that person is only responding to their own inner conflict, and in an unhealthy way attempting to meet their own needs. Anything that anyone (including you) does is merely an attempt to meet an unmet need. And, even if it’s a terrible job, it’s the best they have in that moment.

Now, let me be clear, I’m not suggesting we imagine everyone as their four-year-old self to deny some nasty behaviors people have to excuse the behaviors. We are imagining them as children so we can respond to them without behaving in a way that may help them justify their behavior later. We are imagining them as children for ourselves! We need to be able to respond to people in a way that de-escalates. One of the best ways to do this is to see the person we’re interacting with as non-threatening, so we can effectively kick ourselves out of the fight-or-flight type response we naturally resort to when we assume we are being attacked. Chances are the person we think we’re in conflict with is having a bad day, or they’re dealing with some personal grief, or they like to stir up controversy for their own shits and giggles. No matter what the reason, that reason has nothing to do with you. You do not, I repeat, do not have to respond to them in kind. In fact, if you want to begin creating a #FearlessCulture, you’ll have to begin to master this idea- it’s not about me- and you can stay true to your values despite what anyone else is doing. This is easier said than done, of course; your patients will thank you for it though.

Speak in a way that is both honest and respectful

Finally, once you’ve decided to be mindful and looked at the other person through the eyes of love, you can set whatever boundary you need to set. I see and hear about how people are confused about being kind and firm-they assume they can only be one or the other. This is simply not true! In fact, to truly be kind, one must be transparent about their own boundaries: what is and is not acceptable treatment from another person. The truth is, we all have different boundaries and will accept different levels of treatment from one person to the next. The thing is, we assume other people know what those boundaries are- they do NOT know, we are not mind readers! So, when someone does cross a boundary for you, let them know in a kind and generous way.

This is why we took a deep breath and practiced seeing this person as an innocent version of themselves. To speak in a way to someone else that doesn’t compromise our values, we must be willing to give the person we are talking to the benefit of the doubt. What is the most generous assumption we could make about why Jane interrupted you and raised her voice? Acknowledge the action with a generous assumption, share the impact it had on you, and ask Jane what’s going on with her. Remember, it’s not about you even if she says it is. Jane’s reaction is about Jane, she controls her responses even if something you may have done triggered her.

If you can begin to implement just these three tips in your daily life you will not only move the needle on your HCAHPS scores, you’ll move the needle on the satisfaction of your life! You are the dreamer of your dream; you can make it a nightmare or bliss, it’s always your choice!

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