When we talk about improving your practice, often the focus is on the patient experience. While patient experience is a critical component of success, your staff plays an important role in the way that patients perceive your practice.
If you want to improve patient engagement, it starts with staff engagement. You have to give your staff the training, support, and environment needed to thrive and create those positive experiences for patients. Healthcare workers have very demanding jobs, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added extra stress and demand to their jobs. By supporting your staff, you are ultimately supporting better experiences for your patients.
In Episode 28 of our Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast, we interviewed Britt Berrett, New York Times bestselling author of Patients Come Second. Britt shared why staff engagement is ultimately the key to patient satisfaction, and how to provide that support to your staff.
Engaged Staff = More Satisfied Patients
There are a lot of factors that affect what patients think of your practice. Of course, quality of care is one of the top things patients consider, but there are also other factors. Was it convenient to get an appointment? Did they have to wait a long time to be seen? Are your facilities nice? Is your practice using more modern technology, like EMRs, telemedicine, and online appointment scheduling? And finally, did they have a good experience with your staff?
In the podcast episode, Britt explained how culture is one of the most critical factors in the success of the practice. He said, “You could have a beautiful facility in an ideal location, but if your culture is toxic, failure’s on the horizon.” The culture you create at your practice influences your staff’s behavior and engagement with patients. If your culture is toxic and unpleasant, that reflects in your staff’s attitudes and motivation, which ultimately shows in the experience patients have with your staff. If your culture is positive, supportive, and empowering, your staff will have greater motivation and commitment to their jobs. As a result, your patients will have a much more positive experience.
The possibility of burnout in healthcare is high under normal circumstances, but especially during a pandemic. Your staff now have to worry about getting their jobs done while following much stricter protocols, and try to prevent themselves from getting sick on top of it. If you pair that with an environment where staff do not get the right support and training, it’s no wonder that patients might detect an “attitude” or lack of motivation when interacting with staff. It’s not that they don’t care about patients, but it’s human nature to be unmotivated if you lack support.
Improving Staff Engagement at Your Practice
One of the most important ways you can support your staff is ensuring that they have the right training to do the job you expect them to do. Healthcare is rapidly evolving, and practices have to start thinking like other consumer-focused businesses. This is a big shift in mindset and processes compared to how things used to be. You cannot expect your staff to adopt new technology, procedures, and attitudes without the support and training needed to own those processes.
Patients expect better communication and guidance from practices as they navigate their care options, and that starts from the top down. If patients want to be able to call and ask questions, you have to empower your staff with the tools and knowledge to help your patients. As Britt said in the podcast interview, “Communication is imperative. And to help people navigate through that experience, practitioners need to be much more attuned to that.” Gone are the days where you can have a patient wait until their appointment to get what they need. Also, if your staff can’t help patients with what they need, they are the ones who bear the brunt of those frustrated patients. That creates a poor experience for everyone involved.
Another critical part of staff engagement is ensuring you have the right people for the job. Britt advised, “If you have individuals that are disengaged, you just hired them from the DMV, they used to work as a fast food and you’ve tried to infuse them with a sense of purpose and meaning, that’s a hard, hard challenge. So, build a great team, introduce innovative change, and lead the organization through that change.” If you want to have an engaged staff, you have to hire people who understand and want to further your mission.
Patients often interact with staff more than they interact with their doctors. In many ways, they are more responsible for the success of your practice than the care itself.