Culture of courtesy – A patient’s experience

How important is a culture of courtesy at all levels within an organization?

Does it really matter how the management behave towards people, both internal and external, as long as patient facing staff do their job and don't generate any complaints from patients? If patients are unhappy with the way they are treated isn't this the fault of the front line staff?

I've been dealing with a lot of hospitals both on a professional level, and (fortunately less frequently!) because we have two teenage children, on a personal level.

I recently took our 13-year-old daughter to the smart new facility of a local hospital to have a persistent pain in her ankle looked at. We'd been to this hospital before and had nothing but good things to say. I felt a degree of positive loyalty to it. So when we went to check in for her appointment it was a surprise to find ourselves being checked in by someone who appeared to have learned his customer service skills from the Amtrak ticket sales office in New York's Penn Station. No smile, no welcome, no attempt to engage our daughter and no reciprocated friendliness. It didn't appear to be hostility, merely bored indifference, apparently to both his job and to us. He went through the "sign here" motions and in response to a question I received a curt "that's not the way we do it here." To be fair it was by no means a complete disaster, he did actually carry out his tasks, and we were checked in and waited our turn with the same sense of ebullience as if we'd just purchased a one-way ticket to Buffalo in February.

I decided the hospital would want to know that the efforts of their otherwise excellent medical staff were being undermined by Amtrakman. I mentioned it to a friend who knew the person responsible for patient experience. How lucky I thought, I can give him useful feedback and he'd be so grateful he'd want our company to train his hospital staff in the delivery of an outstanding patient experience. So I was introduced and sent him my impressions of our "patient experience." It was somewhere in his title so I assumed it might be the kind of thing he'd be interested in. But it seems he wasn't. I received no reply, no acknowledgement or even notification that my comments were being passed elsewhere for further action. Knowing he must be a busy man, I called his office to follow up on my email, mentioning the person who'd introduced us so he knew I wasn't trying to solicit money for a political super PAC or something. But I can only assume that's what he suspected; I never received any kind of response.

In dealing with hospitals on a professional level, I started to notice a pattern. Obviously, nobody makes a priority of responding to people hoping to solicit their business, however, polite they are. Although many contacts went unanswered, quite a number had the professional courtesy to reply, even if it was only one line to say they weren't interested at this time. I was intrigued when a significant amount of them turned out to be extremely well known and respected institutions in the top league of patient satisfaction. Hospitals who could reasonably be expected not to have to felt any obligation to respond to a suggestion of additional service training.

Could it be that my experience with Amtrakman was a direct reflection of the prevailing management style in his hospital? Perhaps given the example of indifference demonstrated by the management it was only natural that he felt no particular obligation to behave any differently? What about those institutions with outstanding reputations? Was their institutional culture of courtesy at all levels reflected in the manner in which their staff treated their patients and the consequent high satisfaction levels? Perhaps it's too simplistic an explanation. But I like to think so.

About the FreemanGroup Service Solutions
 Since 1985, over 500 of the world's leading organizations, including hotels, casinos, government tourist boards, retailers, airlines, airports, cruise lines and hospitals, have partnered with FreemanGroup Service Solutions to develop, train and implement their hospitality programs.

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