Should You Buy The Pistachios? How To Improve Patient Experience

imagesI read today that someone high up in the government commented on the fact that ISIS’s use of mustard gas may have just been a step too far, “something civilized people do not do.”  Perhaps the person who commented had not heard about the beheadings and the other butchery, or perhaps in the view of the government all of the other atrocities were not considered to be a step too far.  Sorry for opining, but sometimes things make me want to scream epitaphs.

Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed observing people.  Recently I’ve spent my weekends volunteering at a large produce center, serving hundreds of people each day.  Plenty of time to make observations.

And I’ve observed something I believe may be helpful;to  at least half of you.  A lot of couples come to the center.  And one half of each couple does not need to be there.  But he does not seem to understand that he does not have a purpose.  Most of the men walk a few steps behind the woman.

Sometimes the male half of the partnership will sneak up to the counter by himself, with a smile on his face like a puppy who just found a ham sandwich sitting on the couch.  He will scan the fruits and vegetables with a sense of anticipation, an anticipation built around the idea that he is about to decide what to buy all by himself.

I see him working up the courage to decide between buying okra or roasted pistachios.  He looks quickly over his shoulder.  He doesn’t see her.  He asks for the pistachios.  Even though I know what will happen I humor him and hand him the nuts. Only then does he realize that she did not give him his allowance, and that he is going to have to ask her for the money.  He now looks like the puppy who was caught eating the ham sandwich.

She walks up and asks what he is doing.  “You can’t have those,” she insists.  “You know they give you gas.” He then asks for a bad of red apples. “You still have those apples you asked me to buy you last week,” she tells him.  I think I see his Y chromosome trying to beat a path to the door.  The guy to his left feels for him, but he is standing next to his wife, and he knows he is not allowed to show his support.

She looks at me.  I simply shrug my shoulders.  “I thought about warning him,” I told her, “But somehow I knew you would make sure to tell him he had overstepped his bounds.  You might have let him buy the okra, wouldn’t you?  Just to humor him.”

She gives me a slight wink. “The men are slow to catch on to the fact that just because they are let out of the house to go for a drive doesn’t mean that they are off the leash.”

The couple behind them comes to the counter. I can see that in his hand is a small piece of paper.  Written in crayon on the paper, a badly misspelled is a list of items he planned to purchase.  He looks me in the eye, almost pleading for my help. I simply shake my head and he crumples the paper and shoves it into his pocket.

I believe I could go to the store and manage to buy fruit without making too many mistakes; I just no longer have the courage. I do not know when I lost control, I just know that I did.  “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Clint Eastwood, Magnum Force.

The same principle applies in the office.  I know that watching the show, “Untold Stores in the ER,” does not give me the expertise to insert a chest tube.  But the same concept applies in reverse.  If your entire perspective of patient experience is formulated from the other end of a stethoscope, or from the C-Suite, is it possible that your ability to recast patient experience and access in a manner that aligns with how patients and customers access other businesses may be a bit limited?

Do you know how many times the average person has to call your health system to have their needs met?  If your answer was less than three, your perspective is limited.  Do you know how many business processes your customers can complete on your website?  If your answer was greater than zero, your perspective is limited.  Do you know what types of questions the people in your call center can answer? If your answer was anything other than schedule an appointment, your perspective is limited.

However, the perspective of your patients and customer is not limited.  They know these things. They have to exert a lot of effort to communicate with your health system.

Perhaps the time has come to turn to someone with a better perspective.  And remember, do not buy the pistachios—they give you gas.

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