By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
I recently overheard a nurse bitterly complaining about the staff on her unit being asked by their manager to address patients by name each time they enter the patient’s room and asking them, while there, if they needed anything else. This nurse was irate about the request and proclaimed it was yet one more example of how nurse managers “do not care” about the staff nurses providing good clinical care to patients but that they only care about patient satisfaction scores. I’m not sure that analogy holds water. But this is not the first time I have heard a nurse bristle at any hint of what could be labeled “customer service” strategies. But is it really such a foreign concept to nurses or are we just looking for an excuse to buck the system?
When I was in nursing school we talked at length about developing a therapeutic relationship with patients and family members and making sure that they were as comfortable as possible at all times. We learned how hospitalized patients feel scared, powerless, intimidated and often disoriented. We discussed the importance of acknowledging people, addressing them by name, empowering them by encouraging them to ask questions and so on. Back in the day when nurses had a little more time to spend with patients, we also used to fluff pillows, straighten sheets, give back rubs and even refill water pitchers in addition to all our other nursing duties. All of this was “customer service” even though we didn’t call it that back then. We did realize that these things were a necessary part of empowering patients and their family members to feel safe, calm, comfortable and more in control. It’s something we often referred to as “bedside manner.”
Granted the more personal care tasks are now relegated to unlicensed staff for obvious reasons. But why have some of us become so angry about providing basic patient/customer care services? I’m not talking about adding in extra “tasks” such as fetching juice or ordering extra meals, which can easily be delegated to other staff. I’m talking about a knee-jerk reaction so severe that it could break someone’s jaw at the mere suggestion of the concept.
Let’s be clear on what we’re talking about and not taking about here. The phrase “customer service” is an umbrella term that refers to how a person or entity (healthcare facility, professional association, business, individual practitioner) treats the people they serve. By “serve” I mean, in our case, tending to those who come to us for care, help, advice, healthcare services. The phrase “customer service” is not synonymous with “waiting on people” such as a server in a restaurant or a sales associate in a retail store would do. Nor does it imply that those we serve must be called “customers” rather than “patients.” It’s the concept not the terminology that matters. The phrase is universal.
I’ve heard nurses say that we do these things “only” for patient satisfaction scores. Of course the scores are a measurement tool to assess how well patients perceive their overall care and hospital experience. A patient’s perception does play a role in his/her care because we all know that the happier, safer, and more cared for patients feel, the better their recovery; the fewer times they hit the call button; the less inclined they are to initiate a law suit; and the more inclined they are to have good feelings about the facility and it’s staff overall. These things are all important to any nurse, even the latter, which impacts our livelihood.
I’ve been a patient myself as have many of my family members in the last 10 years. Acknowledging people, calling them by name, taking a few minutes to ask if they need anything, tending to some basic needs, and encouraging questions make a world of difference in care. You can look at it as “something extra” but I see it as part of the therapeutic process. No, it does not trump life-saving skills, critical thinking, and applied nursing science although it does enhance it. So do the two have to be mutually exclusive of each other? I think not. To me, they go hand in hand…and always have.
Donna Wilk Cardillo is the Career Guru for Nurses and “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. Donna is also an ‘Expert’ Blogger at DoctorOz.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo is creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com or www.nurse-power.net/blog.