Patient Family & Community Engagement | Patient and Care Partners

Perception is Everything: Managing Patient Perceptions with Heart

Carole Stanford, CPSS
Patient Experience Manager
Furlong Vision Correction

The patient is not always right. With healthcare facilities trending toward HCAHPS and Value-Based Purchasing reimbursement, this is a bold and shocking statement. 

Here is what I mean when I say the patient is not always right. 

We have all heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” In most cases, it’s a true statement. For our patients, however, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. As healthcare providers, we are being judged through a microscope at ten times the magnification. 

Think of it this way. Did you know that diamonds have flaw ratings?  Some diamonds have very small inclusions (flaws) that are only seen by trained professionals under 10X magnification and after intense searching. Their flaws can only be seen under a microscope. These diamonds are far more expensive than those with flaws that can be seen by the naked eye. Their price is higher, because they are perceived as more valuable by the consumer. 

A patient’s perception of their experience is just as valuable, in other words, like a diamond. Our value is going to be determined by how flawless we appear. We are judged by what we say, what we do, what we do not say and our body language. Our patients come to us in faith. That faith is based on our reputation. As a result, we must exceed their expectations in both care and experience.  

When we have a proven track record with quantifiable numbers, quality care is expected. Our patient is not a number, but a person who not only expects quality care but remembers the experience. Your patient is a very nervous person, who needs you to recognize and address what is important to them. Recognize their pain points and expectations. 

Standardized patient experience training for all staff is not just a good idea but imperative to quality care. If we rely simply on our clinical training as professionals but do not anticipate or recognize the little things that are important to the patient, we have lost the patient’s trust. 

When I say the patient is not always right, I mean they may not be right but their perception is. Perception is 100% right to the person who perceives it to be so. 

Misunderstandings and miscommunication happen daily. These often lead to complaints followed by grievances —  all things we would like to avoid. Perception makes it impossible to avoid these situations. 

There are 4 key principles that I learned that are essential in managing patients’ expectations: 

  1. Listen to what is said with a heart to help.
  2. Acknowledge a perceived or actual mistake. We must address it. If we deny or disregard it, the patient no longer trusts or has faith in you or the facility.
  3. Take personal responsibility for the problem. Never take the problem personally. Personal responsibility empowers you to find a solution. You are not the embodiment of the problem; you are a vessel for the solution.
  4. Respect the person when proposing a solution. What was their most important “touch point?” What does this patient value the most? The person may not state it directly.

The late human rights leader, Nelson Mandela, said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 

The heart is where trust is built.  

About the Author:
Carole Stanford is an ophthalmic professional specializing in elective eye surgery for 30 years. She says, “We don’t get second chances in elective eye surgery to build trust. I make it my mission to show honor to every person I meet, no matter where I meet them.”