How To Piss Off Your Patients

A recent Harvard Business Review article notes that it’s the first rule of customer service: When something goes wrong, apologize. In many cases, the apologies continue throughout the interaction as an employee goes the extra mile to convey empathy and concern. But surprising new research shows that approach can backfire: An apology that extends beyond the first seconds of an interaction can reduce customer satisfaction. Employees should instead focus on demonstrating how creatively and energetically they are trying to solve the customer’s problem—that, not warmth or empathy, is what drives satisfaction.

In sick care, most research indicates there is a disconnect between the patient experience and the quality of care. However, like all industries, paying attention to your customer/patient and employee experience yields important results, that, occasionally, can yield better outcomes. For example, engaging patients as part of their experience lessens inappropriate ER visits. Happy doctors (what few of them that are left) make happier patients.

Here are some common ways to piss off your patients:

  1. Create impersonal ways to say "I'm sorry" at least 5 times during the conversation.
  2. Screw up your patient portal
  3. Hire "patient care coordinators" with little or no customer service skills or training
  4. Blame " the system" instead of trying to solve the patient's problem
  5. Hand off the problem to someone else who is excellent at playing whispering down the lane. Eventually, the patient will be passed back to you if you wait long enough or dare to answer the phone.
  6. Don't give employees the power or incentives to solve the patient's problem
  7. Blame the problem on the patient. I mean, if they had left home earlier, they would not have had so much trouble finding a parking space.
  8. Ignore the root cause of the problem.
  9. Keep telling doctors via patient questionnaire results how they suck at patient satisfaction
  10. Listen more to patients than you do to your employed doctors.
  11. Practice these stupid business tricks.
  12. Make the patient do as much of the work as possible so you don't have to during the 20 minute visit.

Several hospitals across the country are adopting an apology program based on the assumption that saying “I’m sorry” would make patients less likely to sue, reducing the number of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Gabriel Teninbaum, an associate professor at Suffolk University Law School in Massachusetts, a state where these programs are making a foothold, believes that these methods are used by hospitals solely to save themselves, not to offer any comfort to the patients in question.

When it comes to patient/customer service, the same holds true. Start with being a problem seeker. #Listen Then, move on to problem solving. Once you have done so, it's OK to sneak in an "I'm sorry" now and then. And, don't forget to leave for your appointment 20 minutes earlier.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs

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