How to Succeed at Patient Care
Mike Montague: Welcome to the How to Succeed Podcast, the show that helps you get to the top and stay there. This is how to succeed at patient care. The show is brought to you by Sandler, the worldwide leader in sales, management and customer service training. For more information on Sandler, visit Sandler.com. I’m your host, Mike Montague, and my guest this week is Donna Bak. She is a Sandler trainer from Connecticut and brand new author of the new Sandler book, “Patient Care The Sandler Way”. We’re going to talk to her about how to succeed at patient care. Donna, welcome to the show. Tell me a little bit about patient care and who should be listening today.
Donna Bak: Hi, Mike. If you are interested in running a great medical practice that has patients cheering and staff engaged, then you’re going to want to listen and then follow it up by reading the book. Why did I write the book? As most people know, a lot is changing in healthcare and it will continue to change in the years to come. To be a great medical practice, you really have to set yourself apart. Let me tell you a little fable, some people may have heard this. It’s the David and Goliath fable. The story of David and Goliath tells of a young shepherd boy, David, who volunteers to fight the giant Goliath. Goliath is armed with a massive club. He has a tree trunk-sized arm with this massive club, so David’s looking up at that and thinking, “How can I possibly compete against Goliath’s strengths and his size?” He figures out that he’s going to use his skill with a slingshot, so he ends up defeating Goliath with a single, well-aimed stone. For healthcare practices out there listening, my question to you is how good is your slingshot? Just simply offering patients the best medical technology isn’t enough anymore; to thrive in today’s competitive market, they need a slingshot to point at the difference, to win and to keep winning.
Mike Montague: I think that makes a lot of sense and patient care is one of those things that’s just challenging. Nobody teaches you really good customer service or patient care in school. It’s something that people know when they see it, but it’s hard to define so why don’t we get into that a little bit? What are some of the ideal attitudes or what, really, is good patient care?
Donna Bak: You’re right. It’s not something that most practices focus on or have a continuing conversation around the patient experience. The attitude, we have a principle in our training programs and it goes like this: people can only perform in a manner that they see themselves conceptually or, said another way, how you feel about yourself directly impacts how you will perform in your role.
Mike Montague: Good.
Donna Bak: For instance, if you’re a healthcare professional and you don’t believe that you can express appreciation to a patient without sounding fake or sales-y, then you won’t begin the process of making yourself more comfortable in this role and you won’t actually try it. If you can’t envision yourself walking up to the patient in the waiting room to introduce yourself, maybe shake their hand and guide them back to the exam room, with all eyes on you, all eyes in the waiting room and all eyes of your peers on you while you do this, then you won’t perform this way consistently. The other example I give, if you don’t feel comfortable saying to a new patient, “I’m glad you made it here today, Mike, welcome to our practice. How can I help you?”, then you’ll continue greeting patients in a way that’s comfortable for you, which probably sounds something like, “Hi, can I help you?” By the way, Mike, if you were the patient, which greeting would you prefer? The first one, which was, “Hi Mike, my name is Donna, glad you made it here today, welcome to our practice”, or “Hi, how can I help you?” If you were the patient, what would you like?
Mike Montague: Well, yeah, I love the first one and here’s why. I always think those situations are awkward because people normally start with “how are you doing” or “how’s it going”, and you’re like, “Well, I’m in the hospital, so probably not my best day”. The “glad you made it here” is like, probably, “Me too!” It could be one of those situations.
Donna Bak: The point there, and maybe you’re going to ask me next, talk about behavior a little bit and that’s a good segue. Those examples I gave are new behaviors. The attitude piece is that I understand this is a better way for me, my day ends up going better and it’s better for the practice, it’s better for the patient. It’s an all-around better way to communicate with a patient, but if I don’t feel good about myself, I’m not going to do it. We certainly work on attitude a lot in our approach, and then the behavior is these examples I gave you. New ways to greet the patient and new ways to usher them back to the waiting room. Everybody that reads the book and listens to this podcast will be able to relate. Everybody, because we’ve all been to a doctor’s office, a doctor’s visit, and it typically is all the same. It’s very mediocre: “Hi, how can I help you? How are you? Mike, come on back”. It’s all typical, mediocre stuff like that.
Mike Montague: I think that’s interesting. We can dive into some more behaviors, but keeping on that theme… what I found so interesting is that a lot of the tools we use and teach in the sales training for starting and having good conversations really are just good communication skills that apply to all aspects of life. Whether you’re being a parent or whether you’re taking care of a patient, being able to start more interesting conversations, or get to the truth, or have people open up and share what’s really bothering them are important behaviors of any person in a professional role, right?
Donna Bak: In fact, one of my clients, they named their training Exceptional Patient Care. We’ve given it another name––or they have and I’ve encouraged it: Exceptional People Care. To your point, it’s how we treat each other as peers and how we treat the patient. A lot of the behaviors, attitudes, and techniques I talk about for patients certainly can be used with each other. In fact, in most of our classes, we’re talking more about the peer-to-peer communication as much as the patient.
Mike Montague: I think internal communication is another big thing that people need to pay attention to, but what are some of the behaviors of top-performing practices or patient advocates?
Donna Bak: I coined the three behaviors, which are: stroke, struggle, validate. What I find is that most healthcare professionals––all the way from the front desk person, the techs, the medical assistants, the docs, physical therapists and on and on––they are fabulous problem-solvers, to the point where they’ll put their head down, sometimes literally with blinders on and they are determined to find a solution or solutions to the problem. Meanwhile, they have a human being in front of them who’s not okay. A not okay feeling is everything you could imagine, from being frustrated, worried, concerned, upset. One of the behaviors I talk about is this stroke, struggle or validate.
Mike Montague: Those sound like techniques to me, so why don’t we get into that and talk about how we actually deliver better patient care?
Donna Bak: Okay. Let me give you just a quick example of those. The stroke is just a small, genuine compliment. Here’s an example, Mike: I think a lot of us, as patients, get on the internet and self-diagnose. It just is what it is, right or wrong, good or bad. Very often we’re going to into our doctor’s visit and we’re going to tell the person, sometimes the doc, but very often it’s the nurse, the medical assistant, that we’ve done a little research. What I have found to be the mediocre response to that from the healthcare professional’s perspective is, “Okay, well, the doctor will take a look at that, not everything on the internet is a truth, the doctor’s probably the best person to ask”. That’s not so bad, Mike, but what it’s really saying in between the lines is, “You know what? You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do, let the experts handle this”. A little bit of the finger wagging. We say a simple stroke would work great here. “Hey Mike, you know what? You know yourself best, I’m glad you took an interest in doing a little bit of research. I’m curious what you found out”. It’s a stroke to say, “Hey, I’m glad you did that”, so that’s a stroke. A struggle is being a little not okay, and there’s some psychology behind that, why that works, to build trust and bond but let me give you an example of that. As a healthcare professional, you’re not quite understanding what the patient is saying. Now you certainly could say, “Hey, I’m not getting it, can you slow down a little bit?” or “Can you say that again?” That’s not bad, but in my program, my approach, we’re trying to be great at it. We’re trying to really raise the bar, so a struggle would be, “Can you help me understand, Mike, how you came to that conclusion?” or “Can you help me understand where you’re coming from?” It’s a little bit of being not okay, putting the blame on yourself. Does that make sense for the struggle?
Mike Montague: Yeah.
Donna Bak: Okay. Then, the validation, which I think is my favorite, which is to simply acknowledge out loud the emotion that you’re seeing in the patient. You know, as a patient, that one of our big frustrations is time. Very often there’s a wait, for a lot of good reasons, there’s a wait in the doctor’s office. Patients may show that in frustration. They may walk up to the window and give their name and all that, and just say, “Hey, you know, I’m looking around, there’s a lot of people in the waiting room, how long’s the wait?” The mediocre response is, “Oh, the doctor will be with you right away.” The patient may show some frustration. The validation is simple as, “Well Mike, I can see that you’re frustrated by the long wait. I would be, too, so let’s do this”, and then what follows are some suggestions on what the patient could do because of the long wait. The healthcare professionals are good with suggestions in what to do, they’re not so good at starting by validating what that patient may be feeling.
Mike Montague: I like that a lot. Let’s tie everything together. If you wanted to put together attitude, behavior, and technique and just make sure that nurses or medical staff get to their best and stay there, what would you recommend?
Donna Bak: I’d recommend taking one of these techniques, and the book has a whole bunch of different techniques, take one and do it for five seconds. Sometimes I will go into a healthcare practice and be one of them for a day so we’ll do a quick huddle, we’ll pick one of these techniques that we’re going to try for the morning and everybody will agree, “Hey, yeah, I’ll just try it for five seconds” and then we do a quick debrief after and you can see this goes with a busy medical practice, we might not be able to huddle right after. We debrief, “How’d you feel? How did the patient react?” Five seconds, I think all of us could go outside our comfort zone for five seconds. If I said, “You’ve got to do it for five hours”, that wouldn’t be as easy. Pick one, do it for five seconds and then debrief with yourself or debrief with your peers. How’d it go?
Mike Montague: I like that. I love the five seconds of courage and then also debriefing after role plays or experimentation are always a great thing to do. We’re talking with Donna Bak, she is the author of the brand new Sandler book, “Patient Care The Sandler Way”. Let’s get to know you a little bit more, Donna. How do you define success at this point in your career?
Donna Bak: Figure out your “why”, Mike. In fact, the “why” is why do I do what I do. Why do I want to make more money? Why do I want to help people? Why do I like my job? Why do I want to go outside my comfort zone? We’ll spend a class or two on this, helping them figure out their “why”, and some of the things I hear is “I want more respect, I want to be heard more, I want to be promoted”, so figure out your “why” and once you figure that out, the rest seems to fall into place. It’s like the fuel that drives you during the day, during the week.
Mike Montague: What was the biggest lesson learned or hurdle you had to get over in your career?
Donna Bak: I was one of those problem-solvers, so I have a technical background and I’m really good at problem-solving. What I didn’t realize, and I had to find out the hard way, is not everybody wants the problem right away. They may want to be validated, they may want to be stroked, they may want to just simply be listened to at the beginning. I figured out that if I gave them what they wanted, I’d get what I wanted, which was, in the end, for them to listen to my solutions and buy one of my solutions. That was the learning for me, is to make them feel good about themselves first before I offered a solution.
Mike Montague: If you had a superpower or something that you do better than everybody else that you lean on when you need a win, what would that be?
Donna Bak: The validation is probably my favorite… you can call it a technique, but I really think it’s closer to a behavior because it’s a mindset. If I can just recognize the emotion that a person is showing and pause to acknowledge that out loud before I dive into what I want to talk about or the solution, it just goes a long way in making that person feel good about themselves and then listening to me. The validation for me has been a game-changer. I talk about it a lot in my classes and, you know what? It fits right in with the medical world because 99 percent of those patients coming in for a visit, whether it’s a hospital or a medical practice, are not feeling good about themselves or their situation. The validation is a great way to start that conversation.
Mike Montague: Good. Do you have a favorite Sandler rule overall or maybe one for patient care or both?
Donna Bak: Yeah. I guess my favorite, overall, whether it’s healthcare or other fields, is you can’t sell anybody anything. They must first discover they want it. Whether that’s selling a product, a service, an idea, a solution, a practice. A doctor, can’t sell anybody anything. They must discover they want it.
Mike Montague: Based on what we talked about today and how to succeed in patient care, what’s one key attitude you would like people to have to leave the podcast?
Donna Bak: I would say, Mike, to go outside your comfort zone. What’s the worst that could happen? For instance, if you’re going to greet the patient by saying, “Hi, my name is Donna, how may I help you?” “Oh, it’s Mike, I’m here to see Dr. Jones”. “Hi, Mike, glad you made it here today, welcome to our practice”. What’s the worst case if you did that? You might have a peer in the back snickering a little bit, you might have been embarrassed saying it, but you could get through that. You’ve done worse things or harder things. I would say to go outside your comfort zone would be the attitude I’d recommend.
Mike Montague: One key behavior to do?
Donna Bak: Five seconds going outside your comfort zone. You’ve got this, five seconds.
Mike Montague: The best technique to use?
Donna Bak: Pick one or all of these: stroke, a small genuine compliment; struggle, be a little not okay yourself; and validate, just acknowledge out loud an emotion the patient is experiencing. Stroke, struggle, validate.
Mike Montague: I like it. Anything else you want to add on how to succeed at patient care or why people should buy the book, “Patient Care The Sandler Way”?
Donna Bak: If you need a slingshot, and I find that most practices do, they’re being acquired by other practices, they’re being merged. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you don’t want that for your practice, if you still want a seat at the table, if you want to be able to call the shots, if you have a little more of an entrepreneur spirit, then I’m going to suggest you figure out what your slingshot is and it may be patient care, and if it is, I’d love to talk to you.
Mike Montague: Sounds great, Donna, thanks for being on the show. Once again, the book is “Patient Care The Sandler Way: Running a Great Medical Practice That Has Patients Cheering and Medical Staff Engaged”. It is on sale now at https://www.sandler.com/shop, or of course, you can always get it at Amazon as well. Thank you for listening, and remember, whatever you are, be a good one. The How to Succeed Podcast is brought to you by Sandler Training, the worldwide leader in sales management and customer service training with over 250 locations. For more information on Sandler Training, contact us.
Find out more about Patient Care The Sandler Way here or purchase your copy today from the Sandler store.