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HR's Role in Improving the Patient Experience

August 15, 2018

improving-the-patient-experienceWhat really moves the patient satisfaction needle?

A nicer facility? It certainly can help. Concierge services? Also helpful. Good signage? Service programs, rounding, improving online resources, and easier scheduling? Yes, yes, yes, yes and, yes. And there are dozens of other strategies and tools that can improve the patient experience.

But, above all else, the primary driver of the patient experience are the dozens of interactions that patients and their families have with their healthcare providers. These interactions have a much larger impact than wide-screen TVs or a better cafeteria experience.

Related: That Brand New Hospital Doesn't Guarantee a Patient-Centered Culture

Think of it this way. Would you rather have:

  1. A wonderful new facility with all the amenities. But the staff doesn’t know how to talk to you. Your family has no idea what’s going on with your care, and your physician spent less than 30 seconds talking to you (half of which were spent checking his/her mobile phone).

  2. A slightly aged facility and technologies. But the staff is kind, thoughtful, and competent. From the parking staff, to the nurse who gives you your medicine. From the dietitian who brings your dinner, to the patient care technicians, allied health team, and the physician who makes you feel like you are the most important patient that he/she will see today.

Personally, my family has raved about wonderful care and the interactions they’ve had in some older, less sophisticated facilities, but they’ve left some beautiful hospital campuses less than impressed with their experience.

What does this mean? Good people are a “must-have” to increase patient satisfaction. The facilities, technologies, programs, and amenities are a “nice-to-have.” With this in mind, we often tell our HR and Talent Acquisition pros that they have one of the most important jobs in the organization. Who we choose to add to the team – who we will trust with the care of our patients and with creating an outstanding patient experience – that’s where it all starts!

Related: How HR Can Influence Why Patients Choose a Particular Hospital

Healthcare talent acquisition professionals have added pressure that comes with the nature of the service. First and foremost, a hospital needs to provide a high level of care; we can’t settle for mediocre technical and clinical skills. But, to maximize the patient experience, we need a whole other set of behavioral skills. We’re looking for people with individual attributes that go far beyond being “friendly” or “customer-focused.” It’s one thing to choose service-oriented candidates for retail, hospitality, or call center environments. But, patients come to us confused, anxious, and scared. We aren’t creating a “Ritz-Carlton” experience for a customer who is already pretty relaxed – we’re comforting a heart attack survivor, delivering a baby, or applying a cast to a patient with a broken leg.

You can see the challenge facing healthcare’s talent acquisition professionals. So how do you overcome this challenge? How do we get better at evaluating candidates with all of this in mind?

  1. Define what you are looking for. It sounds simple. You can articulate that you want “team players” and people who care about patients, are willing to go the extra mile, are compassionate, who can handle change, who are comfortable working with people in distress, and who can put people at ease – but how do you define these characteristics so that you can build them into a successful selection system? This takes some expertise. You need resources that understand work behaviors so you can put these seemingly obvious attributes into context to be measured.

  2. Define the right process. The components to a selection system vary based on several factors, including your resources, the technology involved, your candidate pool, and “selection ratio.” Here are some questions to consider when creating a standard, efficient and effective process:

    • What information will you gather with the application and resume?

    • Will you use a phone screen, and, if so, what are you measuring?

    • How will you evaluate basic qualifications, technical skills, motivational fit and important behavioral competencies?

    • What’s the most efficient and effective way to interview candidates?

    • What are the pros and cons of panel interviews? Do they always make sense?

  3. Tools. Interview guides, the application, and background and reference checking are all important.

But, how do you measure the important behavioral competencies that drive all of those daily interactions – the nurse who can put patients at ease, the patient care technician who can anticipate the patient’s needs, the physician who can explain complex concepts in simple terms? Step one is getting better at interviewing, but more hospitals are turning to the tools that other industries have used for years – specifically-built personality/behavioral assessments.

When we make every hiring decision with the patient in mind, we target the behavioral attributes that make up what we can all see as “patient-centered care.” This significantly improves the odds that each and every patient interaction is positive and meaningful. Patients remember these actions and interactions that put them at ease, make them comfortable, solve a problem, and let them know that everyone on the team cares.

The results are in. Good news, help is here! The same strategies, tools and science that have helped manufacturing facilities target the right candidates can be successfully applied to healthcare’s unique challenges.

Patient Safety

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren was the former Director of Healthcare Solutions at PSI. He was responsible for developing and promoting tools and services designed specifically for the unique challenges faced by healthcare organizations.