A Few Things I’ve Learned About What It Takes to Become a Patient-Centered Organization – Learning #2

A couple weeks ago, I covered why healthcare organizations shouldn’t make patient satisfaction their main goal.  This week, I’d like to focus on my second key point for becoming a Patient-Centered Organization:

Learning #2: Caregivers should recognize that instead of having “difficult patients” they are treating patients in a difficult situation.

At least that should be the default. A fresh perspective changes the conversation:

Producing value for     →     Producing value with

Potentially adversarial     →     Potentially partnering

A burden or obligation     →     An opportunity or gift

Implications: When patients are labeled as “difficult,” the relationship with them immediately turns adversarial. When a patient is understood to be in a difficult situation, the relationship can be a partnership. Caregivers who assume that patients are [perhaps even inappropriately] expressing difficulty in dealing with a situation should empathize with patients, try to identify sources of pain, dissatisfaction, and discomfort, and work to address the situation that has developed. Tactics start with eye-level communication, a comforting tone of voice, and enacting a service recovery plan. Indeed, a service recovery plan should emanate from the realization that patients are vulnerable, and at a disadvantage, in your facility.

The only surefire way to transcend issues that block the ability of a patient (and providers) to move forward is to identify patient goals. What is important to her? What is unknown by the patient that inhibits her from reformulating plans for future? Does the patient have unreasonable demands and expectations that can be moderated through discussion of her current state? What steps, resources, and timelines are necessary for the patient to see progress toward her goals? Starting with good questions about expectations and goals is a great way to initiate the process of converting a difficult patient to a patient in a difficult situation who now sees a way out.

Donna Ladd, BSBA, Director, Patient Relations at Eastern Main Medical Center recently shared the following with The Beryl Institute: “With psychiatric patients whose behavior can at times be challenging, I think to myself – “how hard is their life?” – and that helps me remember that I am blessed with friends, support and the ability to communicate in a way that people can understand.” To live up to this ideal, healthcare organizations need to hire employees with empathy and ensure that their culture and incentives don’t discourage empathetic behaviors.

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