Known for her prophetic wisdom, Maya Angelou shared,
“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.”
Caring for others is important in all aspects of life, but core to healthcare. From personal and work relationships to the patients you treat and interact with, your actions can have a powerful, long-lasting impact on everyone you encounter.
Think about the last co-worker or boss that made you feel special. What did they do on an everyday basis to let you know you were valued? Perhaps, they consistently expressed their appreciation for your hard work, provided coaching and feedback that furthered your success, and took the time to know what matters to you both in and out of work?
Think about patients you regularly see. Can you see their energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to health increase after each visit? Each time you see them, do you spend a few minutes genuinely connecting with them and getting to know what’s important in their world?
Disney teaches that great leadership requires a constant drive to care for others—whether coworkers, supervisors, customers, or patients. This leadership expectation is threaded through every part of the company. Your organization can include values and promises to, and expectations from, employees around caring for each other and patients.
One promise central to Disney is the expectation of genuine care for each person that touches the company. In healthcare, this means caring for every person from custodians to doctors to patients. For genuine care to become part of your company culture, it has to become an expectation for how you conduct business for every employee that can be felt from the patient waiting area to the labs and break rooms.
Four ways to build a culture of caring
What is the process of building a culture that values care? Let’s look to “The Mouse” for suggestions:
1. Demonstrate care and concern from day one
The first few days of an employee’s tenure influences their expectations. Demonstrate your appreciation for new employees with training and orientation that shows you value them. Continue the positive momentum by training leaders in how to best support newer team members. Schedule touchpoints throughout the first six months to a year for new employees to have the opportunity to share their experiences and network with organization leaders.
2. Train leaders and employees to live your values and promises
Training can go beyond job tasks and procedures to include not only job responsibilities but expectations for treating and communicating with others. In healthcare, expectations for listening, communication, and building relationships with employees and patients should be taught. For example, the practice of intentional listening leads to taking action on what you’ve heard others (patients or employees) say. Training and culture-building sessions that cover how to incorporate your organization’s values and expectations in patient care can be scheduled throughout the year—or added on to department meetings. These sessions can be used to solidify the culture and ensure it’s being lived by each person.
3. Eliminate organizational constraints
Limited resources, outdated policies, and other constraints make achieving your vision difficult. Survey employees—or conduct focus groups—to determine what’s getting in the way of productivity and patient care. While subpar computer systems and inefficient policies may seem like everyday hindrances that should be overcome, they make building and maintaining a culture of care a challenge. Further, healthcare researchers found limited supplies and other daily hassles damage relationships, contribute to rudeness and bullying, and turnover. Low turnover and stable teams build a stronger and healthier culture, and are better prepared to consistently provide your intended patient experience.
4. Encourage ownership of your culture for care
Culture starts with leadership but is everyone’s responsibility. Through mentoring programs and peer-to-peer recognition, employees can take ownership of teaching the culture to others and watching it grow. Culture building and training can be shared by leaders and individual contributors. Ask employees in non-supervisor roles to lead a training session on patient care that incorporates your values. Celebrate success with your employees by sharing accomplishments like improvements in the quality of patient care, employee retention, and the success of the organization.
By implementing this simple four-step process, you can increase the care and concern employees share with each other and patients. Once you know your core values, develop a plan for living them and share it with employees in places they can see every day.
Ways to show patients you care
Think through how your culture of care will influence the patient experience. You may want to consider care paths or condition-specific steps of care. (This was foundational to the Cleveland Clinic building a remarkable patient experience.) The following suggestions could be ways of expressing your culture of care to patients.
• Recognize the individuality of each patient
You know how special you feel when someone remembers your name and personal things about you? Patients will feel special when employees remember what’s important to the patient. This means showing a genuine interest in what is happening in their lives, such as family happenings, or what they were looking forward to doing following treatment.
• Express gratitude—often
Healthcare is often stressful, uncomfortable, and frightening. Incorporating expressions of gratitude communicates respect and care. You can go beyond and give patient’s handwritten notes expressing your gratitude for their continued loyalty to your practice, or adherence and success with treatment (e.g., lower blood sugar levels for a diabetic patient, or continued weight loss success). Online reviews of healthcare providers are becoming more common, and 80% of new patients will consult reviews before choosing a provider. Going above and beyond to express gratitude and concern can differentiate the experience above the competition.
• Ask for & act upon feedback
Invite patients to participate in a survey that measures how you are living your culture of care. The survey can measure the targeted behaviors and goals you are trying to achieve like gratitude, communication, and recognition of each patient’s uniqueness. Give them an incentive for participation, such as being entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Evaluate responses and communicate your goals for improvement and any implemented changes following the survey.
• Provide memorable experiences
Celebrate significant events, both related and unrelated to care, in your patients’ lives. If you are a dental practice and a child is nearing the end of a series of fillings, get a card ready that is signed by each member of your team. If you are in urgent care and a patient has emergency surgery because of a condition discovered at your practice, send flowers or a card. For longer-term relationships, celebrate milestones like birthdays, graduations, or promotions to show you care. These expressions of care build a stronger connection with patients.
• Hold patient appreciation events
Hold patient-wide events to build bonds that celebrate your vision and mission for care. An oncology practice might hold quarterly gatherings to celebrate patients who have completed treatment. A practice focused on children could host a Friday-night date night, where parents can drop-off kids for several hours of free childcare. Urgent care centers can host family events with entertainment and attractions for both parents and kids to build a sense of community. Other practices might have cocktail hours, appreciation nights, or celebrations several times a year to show appreciation and allow employees to socialize with patients in a non-care setting.
• Reward patients
Provide goodie bags or complimentary items that include coupons and office-branded promotional items. If you’re an urgent care office, give away small first aid kits that can be kept in the patient’s car, bag, or purse. Consider creating packets of complimentary items and resources that cater to specific conditions. For example, a primary care practice could have literature and resources for patients that are trying to lose weight (i.e., a water bottle, tips for losing weight, and coupons for a local gym). These gifts, combined with frequent communication and follow-ups, can build a strong bond founded on care.
Integrate the employee experience with the patient experience and involve employees in brainstorming and developing ways to care for patients in line with your culture and values. I guarantee it will pay off in huge dividends down the road.
As Maya Angelou so prophetically said,
“They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
So ask yourself, your employees and your patients the same question: How does your culture make people feel?
Here is a companion article you might enjoy: How to Chart a Better Patient Experience Using the Disney Compass.