Patient Engagement Starts with Staff Engagement

Patient engagement starts with staff engagement

Most of us have been in that social situation where a couple gets in a disagreement; the “Bickersons” are oblivious to the awkwardness their argument is causing among those around them. If you’re the onlooker in that situation, a vortex opening in the middle of the room and sucking you up would be a welcome opportunity.

What if that happened in your office, but the “Bickersons” were a physician and a clinical staff member? Your patients are likely hoping for a vortex.

Many healthcare organizations are tossing around the term patient engagement—it’s very 2016. Or as I like to say, “The consumer formerly known as the patient.”

Most individuals are now shopping for healthcare in the same way they do nonessential items; the physician-centered model will no longer work in this landscape. So you want to engage your patients and you require your staff to put patient engagement at the forefront, right? Many insiders believe this is the key to reimbursement and return customers.

I think patient engagement really starts with staff engagement. Extensive research shows that employees that feel valued and recognized work smarter and are willing to go that extra mile. Attitude is contagious, especially negative attitude. A recent article in Physicians Practice listed six keys to motivating medical practice staff. They were:

  • Cross-train
  • Encourage and fund offsite training
  • Praise publicly, correct privately (Bickersons, this is for you!)
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly
  • Take some time to get to know your staff and their jobs.

I have seen physicians belittle clinical staff in public and I have seen clinical staff treat certified nursing assistants (CNA’s) with disdain. However, this entire team has one common link: the patient. Patients may be sick, but most certainly aren’t blind. When there’s clearly a disconnection within the team, what sort of confidence can a patient have in them?

I have an amazing friend, a plastic surgeon, who specializes in reconstruction for breast cancer patients. Oftentimes the people in his office are very sick and the atmosphere should be dismal. However, the opposite is true. You hear patients laughing. I see staff hugging people as they leave. They offer personal well wishes to family members, and people often leave with a happy, “See you soon!” Wait, what?

It starts behind the curtain!

My friend is passionate about his work, he is very selective about who he hires and he has surrounded himself with amazing people. What’s astounding is how they treat one another and the minuscule percentage of turnover he’s seen the last five years, despite the added complexities of ACA and ICD-10. The opposite has happened, actually. Several nurses and counselors have moved from other areas of the health system into his office.

My friend really knows his staff. He studied to become a minister so he could marry one of his nurses and her fiancé. He’s won a variety of awards for patient care and his discoveries in medicine, but he always turns the focus away from himself and shines the spotlight on his staff. Although at times I know he gets frustrated with certain situations, he never airs those grievances publicly.

We’re on the board of a nonprofit together (he’s actually the founder). When we suggest using him as our face for marketing, he always refuses because he doesn’t want the focus to be on him, but the women that need our services and the volunteers that provide the support. Many of our volunteers are current or former patients, who are involved with our cause because they love him, want to support him, and genuinely like being around him and his staff. The stories always end the same, “I got involved because I just love him!”

His staff adores him, he adores them, and their patients—sometimes critically ill—leave his office smiling. His practice is flourishing, which is sad since many patients are there because of breast cancer. But they are also there because amidst a dark cloud, my friend and his staff can cause a smile, even on the darkest day.