As healthcare leaders we are all currently acutely aware of concerns with being able to properly staff our facilities. Not to mention wanting to staff them with talented and passionate individuals that will deliver amazing patient care.

Most people in the industry chose it because they wanted to help people. We are all here for the patients. None of us would have a job if it weren’t for patients. And particularly in competitive markets like the DFW area, delivering good care alone isn’t enough to compete. We must deliver great care where patients have an excellent experience to hold or grow our market share.

How do we do that? We build processes with the patient in mind first and our needs second. And we create a culture that epitomizes caring, not just for our patients, but for our team members. Processes and culture that put caring first should be a given in healthcare.

Design processes around what is good for patients

Most of the way healthcare processes are designed are for the ease of the provider of healthcare. However, COVID-19 has shone a bright light on the healthcare providers that had patient friendly processes in place prior to the pandemic. They quickly rose to the top when trying to figure out how to deliver care in the challenging environment that the pandemic presented. And many others quickly re-designed their processes to be more patient friendly.

The idea of patient-centered care was introduced in the 1980s and caught on in the early 2000s after the Institute of Medicine popularized the term. But it seems like we are just now really starting to see movement towards what patients want. On the outpatient side, many providers were faced with the decision of closing their doors or figuring out how to get patients to choose them and stick with them. On the inpatient side, it’s been re-discovering how to offer care in a way that is both good for patients and safe for our own teams, and often with a shortage of staff.

We’ve made great strides towards a patient-centered experience that we should keep after this pandemic. Aside from our own convenience as healthcare providers, there is no excuse for making patients go back to the old ways. Patients should be able to schedule online, fill out forms online, check in online, wait in their car, access telemedicine when clinically proper, pay online, and access their test results and clinical information online. There’s no reason to go in for follow up on labs or imaging unless the news is something that really needs to be delivered in person. Patients don’t want to have to work to be our customers. They want it to be easy – and they deserve that. Let’s design processes where we first look through the lens of the patient.

The pandemic has forced some rationing of care that has had both positive and negative effects. While we don’t want to ration preventive care and screenings because that is harmful, the pandemic has illustrated that we can teach people that the emergency department might not be their best choice when they have cold symptoms. Even two years into the pandemic, it is surprising how much education and re-education we continue to do with people that even if they get COVID, going straight to the hospital emergency room is not the solution. But it’s clear that behaviors can be changed. Proper site of service is good for everybody. It’s good for the patients. It’s good for the hospitals. It’s good for the outpatient providers. So, let’s keep this after the pandemic and continue to educate around it.

Create a culture that epitomizes caring for our team members

So where is the intersection of great patient experience and being able to staff our facilities appropriately? How can we ask our teams to do more and make patients even happier when we can barely get our shifts covered? Think about good patient experience being a good team experience. No one wants to work in environment where we are dismissive or rude. But we can morph into that kind of environment easily when we’re busy and we’re tired and there isn’t one anyone modeling how to treat patients.

It takes the same amount of time to be nice to somebody as it does to be rude. It takes the same amount of time to say something with a smile as it does with a flat affect. It takes the same amount of time to refer to somebody by their name rather than their room number. And we all know the adage that people perceive that we spent twice the amount of time with them if we sit down while we are talking to them. If these behaviors are prolific throughout the organization, our teams feel good and make our patients feel great.

We should treat our team the way we want them to treat our patients. Let’s be servant leaders that are jumping in and helping. We need to do everything we can on every single shift to set our staff up to deliver the best clinical care possible. That may mean that we round to look for things people simply need our help with and jump in. And not big strategic stuff. Things like taking a blanket to Ms. Smith or a cup of water to Mr. Patel. Or, answering the phones while our Unit Secretary goes on break.

If the thought of carving out the time for this is overwhelming, ponder two things. One – what are we doing all these building projects, equipment purchases, and process improvement for if we can’t even deliver the most basic care for our patients and help our staff? Two – If we can create a culture of caring for both patients and staff, we are going to have increased volumes and increased staff retention. What happens if we don’t?

And, as we are adding to our to-do lists, let’s put mental health of our care givers on it. They are exhausted and living in a system that was stressed long before the pandemic. What do we have in place to check on them, to allow them to decompress, to give them respite? And what do we do post-pandemic to create organizations that allow them to thrive and be ready for the next one?

We must create cultures where people fall in love with healthcare again, fall in love with providing exceptional clinical care, and fall in love with delivering excellent patient experience. It starts at the top and it must be prolific throughout our entire organizational culture.