Chuck Lauer: The Patient is Your Boss

In professional life (and personal life, for that matter), everybody is accountable to someone. No matter how far up the organizational ladder you climb, you still have a boss. Jim McNerney Jr. holds the titles of chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of The Boeing Co., the aviation behemoth. It sure sounds like he is the top dog of that company. And yet he is accountable to the board, which can fire him if the financial results go south or customers are unhappy. The same is true in healthcare, where every CEO has a board, whether the organization is for-profit or nonprofit.

Chuck LauerA year ago I had lunch with a very successful individual who had just sold his company to a bigger company for close to $100 million. He and a partner started the company on a card table in his garage in the late 1990s. As we were having lunch I noticed he seemed out of sorts, and I asked him why. After some thought he blurted out, "I now realize I have to report to somebody, and it bothers me." Think of it, in a relatively short period of time my friend had sold off his company and become fabulously rich, but was upset because the deal involved him staying on for a short period of time to fulfill the terms of the purchase deal, essentially as an employee. He didn't understand that reporting to a higher authority is simply a fact of life.

In a recent talk with a good friend, Terry Mulligan, the vice-chairman of the supply chain and revenue cycle management firm MedAssets, he gave me a different twist on this concept of accountability. Terry has had a distinguished career in sales, and back in the 1980s, he was the top salesperson for the illustrious American Hospital Supply Co., which then was the premier supplier of medical products to hospitals all over the world. Later Terry would become the top sales honcho for Baxter, after they acquired The American Hospital Supply Co. He has been around the track and knows what it takes to attain success. When you listen to him speak it all make sense!

Mulligan told me he would often ask his salespeople whom they reported to, and they would always come up with the name of their supervisor. Terry would repeat the question and they would again name their supervisor. At that point he would suggest to them in no uncertain terms that the people they really reported to should always be their customers. After all, without customers buying products no company or organization can stay in business very long.

The same concept should apply in healthcare, but if you asked everyone in this industry who their boss is, almost all would say the chief medical officer or the head nurse or the CEO. Few people in or out of healthcare really understand the importance of the people who are the end users of their work product.

Mulligan recalled how many times he used to sit in meetings wherein supervisors would talk about their "direct reports," pulling up slides of intricate organizational charts to illustrate their self-importance. He believes that on the top of every organizational chart should be the customer, which is the reason that any business exists.

In healthcare, this means thinking of the patient as the person who is truly your boss. We hear so much about patient-centered care, and I have no doubt for some people and organizations that is really their mission. But viewing the patient as the main person you report to puts things in a different light. 

When I hear people talking to customers and saying, "That isn't my department, try calling this number and someone should be able to help you," I become concerned. Whenever a customer calls a company the person answering the phone should own that call and make sure the needs of the customer are met with a sense of urgency and that person is treated with dignity and respect. Yet day after day customers are treated with indifference and rudeness because they are thought of as outsiders and their requests are seen as inconveniences.

I have watched patients and families walk into the lobby of a hospital, looking anxious and uncertain of where to go. When they ask a passing hospital employee (don't get me started on the lack of receptionists) where outpatient surgery or radiology is, the employee wordlessly points down a long corridor filled with signs and doorways. When the patient is the boss, you escort her down the hallway, introduce her to the person she needs to see and thank her for the opportunity to serve her needs. Only then do you return to your previous task.
In my book, "Soar With the Eagles," I talk about customers and what they mean to any business. I will leave you with my list of the 10 Commandments of Quality Customer Service (substitute "patient" for customer):

1.    A customer is the most important person in any business.

2.    A customer is not dependent on us — we are dependent on him.

3.    A customer is not an interruption of our work — he is the purpose of it.

4.    A customer does us a favor when he calls — we are not doing him a favor when he calls.

5.    A customer is part of our business — not an outsider.

6.    A customer is not a cold statistic — he is a flesh and blood human being with feelings like our own.

7.    A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with.

8.    A customer is a person who brings us his wants — it is our job to fulfill those wants.

9.    A customer is deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give him.

10.  A customer is the lifeblood of this and every other business.


Chuck Lauer ( was publisher of Modern Healthcare for 33 years. He is now an author, public speaker and career coach who is in demand for his motivational messages to top companies nationwide.

More From Chuck Lauer:

Chuck Lauer: Look Me in the Eye
Chuck Lauer: Trust
Chuck Lauer: Keep it Simple

Copyright © 2023 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars