SCGhealth Blog

Flying the Friendly Medical Practice

Monday, May 22, 2017

By Ben Regaldo, contributing writer

No doubt you saw the news that became a public relations nightmare for United Airlines, but you probably don’t know that Christiana Care Health System in Delaware had a similar incident come to light shortly after the United Airlines story broke.

Once known for their iconic slogan, “Fly the Friendly Skies,” United Airlines had years of goodwill undone in just a matter of minutes. Seeing as to how nearly everyone these days has a recording device of some sort in arms reach at all times, another slogan comes to mind: “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”

One could argue that the United Airlines flight attendants did nothing wrong. They were just following procedures and doing their job, just like some of your staff may be doing. If that is in fact the case, what can we learn from these recent incidents?

Lesson 1: Culture

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” says management guru Peter F. Drucker. In the Harvard Business Review article written by John Deighton in relation to the United Airlines incident, he states that it isn’t policies and procedures that make a difference, but rather helping staff understand the principles of good judgement and allowing them to exercise just that. Just as staff should understand when and where to break policy (to a certain extent) and exercise good judgement, supervisors must also learn to deviate from the rule book and lead by example.

The airline industry, like healthcare, is driven mainly by policy and procedure because ultimately, lives are at stake. However, if you’ve ever flown Southwest Airlines, you’d never guess that their staff were subject to the same regulations as every other airline. That is due mainly to the difference in culture.

Culture isn’t born from policy manuals. Culture is built through experiences and stories of what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and what behavior’s been rewarded and/or frowned upon. In their book “School Culture Rewired,” Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker wrote that “the culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate”. Perhaps now is the time to put down the strategic plans, and think about your strategic culture – specifically the desired patient experience.

Lesson 2: Hire Appropriately 

Of course, for a positive culture to become infused throughout your practice, you must have the right people in place to make that happen. This starts with understanding the culture you are looking to portray in your business, and then hiring those with the characteristics and attributes that go hand in hand with said culture, not just the skills necessary to do that job. As mentioned by Human Resource Executive Online, it may benefit one to play out different scenarios during candidate interviews to single out those who cannot utilize desired traits and common sense in certain situations.

Let’s look at Southwest again, did you know that they focus more on their employees than their customers (and shareholders)? Southwest believes that if they hire the right people and support their staff, then their employees will focus more on the customers and ensure that they have the best possible experience – a hardnosed business built on love. What attitudes do you take into consideration? Empathy? Responsiveness? Attention to detail? Just to name a few.  

Lesson 3: Training and Awareness

Finally, take the time to thoroughly train your staff. As practices continue to grow in patient volume, the time for crucial staff meeting and trainings often falls by the wayside. Practices with strong cultures have one thing in common: they all invest the time necessary to provide the best training opportunities available. Training should help everyone understand the experience you want patients to have. Remember, patients come to you at a vulnerable time in their lives and are placing incredible trust in you. They need someone who cares, so do right by them and make them feel as if they are more than just dollars and cents.

Involve your staff in the training instruction whenever possible. The younger, more tech-savvy employees of your practice know just how powerful social media can be when it comes to highlighting and spreading the word. Let them help keep your practice in a positive light in both the good and bad situations you may be faced with. We are in the age of technology, so embrace it. Nowadays, the infamous “no cell phone” policy is dying. Even school teachers (once the sworn enemy of cell phones) are finding ways to utilize apps and different technological features into their teachings.

Takeaway: When Things Go Bad, Act Fast

It’s all fun and games until something goes wrong, and before you know it you’re in the spotlight. You’re on the defensive and scrambling to “gather the facts,” but the reality of it is that negative news travels around the world before you even have the chance. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz failed to act for 48 hours, drastically effecting the credibility of his airline, but also his personal prestige.

It’s imperative to act quickly, honestly and authentically. One can learn a lot from United Airlines’ public relations mess, but it all boils down to their culture, their staff, and the training they provide for their staff. With the introduction of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, clinicians with the best possible patient experience will receive higher payments. However, the most successful practices have always put patients first. What does that tell you?

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