What’s Your Body Language?

Don’t Forget the Patients in the Rush to Get Them Back.

We’ve all walked into that meeting. You’re nervous but excited. You’ve been looking forward to this – or at least you’ve prepared yourself for it. You have a mental picture of what the meeting will be like. And then you walk in. The other person barely makes eye contact. Checks his phone. Twists in his chair. You walk out feeling deflated and upset.

No matter how good a person’s words are, the wrong body language will drive others away. The same is true for organizations. Every hospital or clinic has body language. And it speaks so much louder than words. Or advertising. Or good intentions.

Today, in an environment where bringing patients back is an urgent priority for every single provider of healthcare and for those who need care, making patients feel safe and welcome – getting the body language right and giving them a good patient experience – is more important than ever.

Last week, we heard from Jarrard Inc. Partner and Chief Development Officer Anne Hancock Toomey about a “stunningly terrible” experience during a pre-op visit to a local health system. Confusing parking, dark hallways, yellow caution tape evoking a crime scene, cheap paper signage, a terse physician and – “the deal killer” – learning that the same surgical suites and recovery rooms were being used for both COVID-19 positive and uninfected patients. In the end, she took her business elsewhere and has no regrets.

What’s missing (thankfully) from Toomey’s is a dramatic medical outcome – a botched surgery or a post-op infection. In fact, she noted that she would likely “have had a similar clinical outcome at either hospital.”

But sit on that for a moment, because it makes the point even more compelling. A patient, in significant pain and needing (not wanting, but needing) surgical intervention was willing to leave a reputable hospital, postpone the procedure and take the time to find somewhere and someone else to take care of it.

Not to put too fine a point on it: Your outcomes and your name are not enough.

People are already nervous about returning for care. Remember our recent survey that showed a majority of Americans plan on waiting seven months or longer before returning to healthcare settings? Once they take that deep breath and decide to come back, patients have to feel comfortable – with your facilities, your staff, your clinicians, your processes. They’re looking at your organizational body language, and they’ll turn around if they don’t feel welcome.

Industry insider Paul Keckley examined this issue in his weekly eponymous report. Medical encounters, he writes, are already fraught for patients, citing ‘white coat anxiety’ that can invalidate vitals and possibly lead to inaccurate diagnoses.

“Clinical research considers anxiety disorders as disabling as depression, especially in populations with chronic co-morbidities or groups who feel socially disenfranchised—like persons of color, the uninsured or uneducated,” he goes on to say.

We certainly owe a positive patient experience to vulnerable, at-risk and underserved populations because they need it the most and may not have the option to walk out and find another option.

This positive experience starts the moment someone makes an appointment and runs beyond their visit. It involves every person in the organization, with a special emphasis on clinicians. Why? Because we know from our research that people have tremendous trust in doctors and nurses. That means they can be a powerful voice in encouraging people to return to care.

The question is, “What will be waiting for them when they do return?”

It’s likely that if you haven’t explicitly examined your organization’s patient experience, it will fall short.

Keckley makes this observation: “In ACS’ Joint Statement and CMS’ Opening Up America Again, there’s no mention of patient anxiety. None. Both address prioritizing cases and preparing facilities and supplies, but not a word about the fears and anxiety of their patients.”

It takes active, conscious and regular testing to figure out if using a service or product is a positive experience or a stressful one. And if it’s the latter, and you don’t make necessary changes, people will not bring you their business and trust you for their care.

So now is a moment to put time, energy and resources into doing what we often talk about here at Jarrard Inc.: reflecting back on your mission and then asking if the operational and cultural actions your organization is taking, no matter how seemingly small,  help you fulfil that mission or take you further away from it. We hope you’ve found a good plan for preparing facilities and prioritizing cases. But please, don’t stop there. Check your body language.

To help you get started, we put our sharpest minds at the firm to work and created a complimentary, comprehensive self-assessment, tailored for this very moment in time. We call it The Body Language Assessment Download and print it or take it digitally on a tablet as you walk your facility.

David Shifrin