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Patient satisfaction is not provided by angry people
Story Number is : 032904109
Consultant, Columnist
Hospital Newspaper

Thanks so much to all the readers of Hospital Newspaper who took the time to fill out the survey in last month’s edition. You told me what things in your hospital tended to make people angry. Even though each answer I received came from a different hospital (and from two different states – New Jersey and New York), the answers were amazingly similar.

Every survey identified lack of communications or miscommunication as being a major problem, whether it was between patients and staff, among staff with each other, between staff and administration, or physicians with either staff of administration. It stands to reason that hospital personnel who are upset because of these problems would not be in the best frame of mind to provide outstanding patient care. That often results in patients and their families being less than satisfied when they fill out those patient satisfaction surveys!

Communications problems are pervasive. They do not occur only in hospitals. Time after time in my consulting practice I see where a lack of communications or inadequate communications have either been the cause of a huge problem or have made a problem worse.
This is not hard to understand. We all know from personal experience how upsetting it is when:

(1) people don’t tell you what is going on and then act as if you should have known something;
(2) you’re told one thing one day but the next day the story is changed;
(3) concepts are vague; you act on one interpretation and then are told – after a problem has arisen – that the person didn’t mean what you thought they did;
(4) you attempt to inform another person of something but you can tell that he or she is not listening;
(5) you are criticized for doing something that is against policy when you didn’t even know there WAS a policy.

You can probably add a lot of other examples. Problems erupt and people get angry with one another. How does all this impact the field of crisis management -- the focus of most of my columns? Here are two specific ways.

An unresolved issue can build to crisis proportions. A problem between patients or family members with doctors, nurses, or staff can start out as a slight misunderstanding or absence of communication but quickly snowball into a major issue or even a lawsuit. The side that feels wronged can bring in the media in order to turn up the heat. This magnifies the problem. Bad publicity alerts more people to the issue, some of whom can become very angry about it. This is a very dangerous downward spiral.
During a crisis, clear and frequent communications are essential. When a situation has erupted – whether it’s a patient alleging poor care, a family member talking loudly of inadequate, delayed or uncaring treatment, a labor union undertaking a job action, an outside group that targets your institution alleging some impropriety, etc. – all those who want to be supportive of the hospital need to be kept up to date on the situation. If they are left in the dark, not knowing how to respond to criticisms leveled at the institution by the media or outsiders, they will feel slighted and resentful. On the other hand, if they are kept informed of the most recent facts and provided with the latest organization statement, they can be valuable allies.

Improving communications at all levels requires a many-faceted approach. It involves interpersonal, face-to-face communications as well as group meetings and written documents. It is not easy. But one of the first steps is to simply be aware of how important communications issues are. Consistently, when large numbers of employees are asked what is important to them, feeling that they matter comes out higher on the list than wages and benefits! And one of the most effective ways to show people that they matter is to keep them informed about issues that affect them.

You can’t just wave a magic wand and solve your communications issues. However, when the value of communications is truly understood, perhaps more people – whether staff, physicians, or administration – will redouble their attempts to be certain their communications are frequent and clear. It could easily result in a more pleasant working environment and, consequently, higher levels of patient satisfaction!

Judy Hoffman is a crisis management consultant, media trainer, and professional speaker .She has provided her workshops and presentations on “Dealing Effectively with Angry People” to a wide variety of audiences, including managers of hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities. Her CD on this subject is available at her web site:
She is also the author of “Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis.” She can be reached at 1-800-848-3907 PIN 2145 or through her e-mail at
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