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The Patient Experience Should Be Everything, But, What Happens When it’s NOT?

Recently, I gave a keynote speech to one of the top-rated hospital and healthcare groups in the country.  My immediate take away is that great organizations are consistent at empowering their people to be great. 

Becoming top rated, the best or one of the greats doesn’t happen by accident, luck or wishful thinking. It happens through attitude and action.
It happens on purpose!

In the case of this article, the focus is on patient care and creating an exceptional patient experience.  You might assume that is the goal and mission of every healthcare facility, program and hospital, but what happens when it’s NOT???

Here is my story, recently shared at an LDI – Leadership Development Institute Day for one of the top rated hospital and healthcare groups, as a learning example. I didn’t share it as a professional speaker and author, but rather, as a patient, a father and a husband.


I think there are three words that can best sum up my Patient Experience this past year. Disappointing. Sad.  Scary.


When I speak at leadership development meetings for healthcare groups and hospitals, I always start my speech off by saying:

“The patient experience is everything.”


While not everyone has direct contact with patients, everything and everyone contributes to the patient experience – legal, billing, maintenance, nursing, education, registration, help desk, and so on. Every position plays a role in the creation and contribution of the big picture. It’s the culmination of attitude and action. It communicates a vital message to patients – “Either we care about you and will demonstrate it or we won’t.”

Some hospitals and healthcare groups make
patient experience their biggest priority.

The result of how that happens can be credited to leaders and leadership who authentically care and are accountable to upholding a standard of excellence. This doesn’t mean you are perfect every day, but you learn from the “off days” and mistakes and get better. That is part of the pathway to how you achieve excellence in this workplace environment.

Let me share my year-long experience with a healthcare group that I will leave anonymous. My family and I reside in Carmel, Indiana. Healthcare is important to us. As a father of two little girls and a husband to an incredible wife, I don’t want mediocre service and treatment for them.  Nobody should ever tolerate mediocre service or healthcare treatment. That is never an option. Ever! I want the best for my family because I love them, and they are everything to me. I want security and confidence that they are being cared for the right way.

When I arrived, or have ever arrived, for my regular doctor visits, there is never a smile at check in. I’m not expecting a ray of sunshine, but something to make me feel human would be appreciated.

When you walk into the doctors office and peer through the glass office window, someone rolls over in their chair, reaches out and slides the glass window open almost like you are interrupting their day or selling them life insurance. They ask for your insurance card and driver’s license, tell you to have a seat, and that someone will call you.

Let’s break this down a little:

The nurse called me back, weighed me, took my temperature and blood pressure and said the Dr. will be into see you soon. Twenty five minutes later, the Dr. arrives.  Immediately, he opens his laptop, asks a few questions, checks my heart, looks in my ears and throat and makes suggested recommendations for meds and a blood test.

When I arrived at the pharmacy to pick up my medications, they were not called in yet. The pharmacist indicated this particular doctor is very slow to respond to requests and that I would have to come back the next day or call him myself.

Then, found out the meds I was prescribed didn’t mix together well, and I ended up experiencing significant side effects. My wife researched which meds work best based on my condition and found a better treatment. My question is, why did my doctor not care enough to do a good job in the first place? I dismissed it as an oversight. When I called my doctor and suggested a different combination via voice mail, the doctor called it into the pharmacy based on my non-medical degree suggestion and no discussion.

  1. Insurance – when you check in and provide your insurance card, it’s a form of how you will pay for the visit or treatment. For some reason, this healthcare group never updated my insurance and tried billing my old insurance, which lapsed over four years ago. However, they photocopied my insurance card every time I went in. I guess they like to photocopy stuff for fun? I didn’t know this until we got a call from a creditor in Chicago informing me that we need to pay our IU bill now. Even when we did pay IU Health the full amount, they never communicated this to the creditor – so they kept calling and calling and calling.

I even took time out of my schedule to go in to the doctor’s office to discuss it with the people who do billing. They made it seem like it was all taken care of and fixed. However, throughout the rest of the year, we got harassed by credit collectors for medical bills because  this healthcare group never fixed my insurance like they said they did when I took time out of my day to go there and fix it. So, now my credit score has taken a hit, and it’s all compliments of people who are not driven by excellence.

  1. Blood test – I had to get a blood test done. When I was getting my blood drawn, the nurse who took the blood kept looking at the clock and sighing. I asked if everything was okay, and she said, “My shift is up in twenty minutes. This day is going so slow. Just want to get out of here.”

This is coming from the person who has a needle in my arm and keeps looking away.

  1. The Nurse – Whenever I called my doctor’s nurse to follow up on my blood work or prescription refills throughout the year, she never called the number I provided her – which is my only number. She always called my emergency contact. Even when I informed the nurse that the number she kept calling was my emergency contact and to call my direct line, she continued to call my emergency contact.


  1. Chest pains – I had pulled a muscle in my chest; however, it didn’t feel normal. At my age, you get medical attention fast for any chest pain. I thought it was a heart attack. I went to the hospital, where my doctor’s office is located, and when I asked to see my doctor because of chest pains, she said she couldn’t get me in until Thursday – and this was a Tuesday. (I should have just got to the emergency room, but I didn’t want to make it a big deal with drama, and I didn’t know what was happening.) It wasn’t until someone stood up and yelled at the receptionist, “He is having chest pains!!!! Get him to a doctor now!!!!”

It turns out it was a pulled muscle, but when that lady yelled – you saw all the receptionists and people behind the plate glass window MOVE!!

I will end my personal patient journey here, but will leave out the scary details about my families experiences with this healthcare group.

The really sad part about this experience is that me and my family are left wondering, “Who can we trust?”

We thought it would get better, but it never did.

It was almost like each visit was progressively worse. It’s a scary feeling, and one that we shouldn’t have. The goal of a patient experience isn’t to instill more fear, but to do your best to eliminate it or manage it.

Trust is the byproduct of healthcare groups that make excellence a priority in patient experience.

A lack of this is a lack of real leadership.  You can be in a leadership role and not grasp what real leadership is and that seems to be the case in my experience. Again, the goal isn’t to be perfect every day, because we won’t be.  The goal is to get better every day and use the imperfect days as a spring board – not a sink weight.


When I share this story with audiences, you can see their eyes get HUGE and heads shaking back and forth in complete disbelief.  But, I also want to point out, these audiences I am sharing this message with are top rated, the best and driven to achieve excellence.

Average and mediocre health care groups run by leaders who have a leadership title, but don’t understand leadership don’t hire speakers like me or plan for events that empower their people. They view empowerment and engagement as a waste of time and resources.  That is blind leadership, because real leaders understand that action and attitude is what drives the bus!

When a group hires me, they aren’t buying a speaker.  They are investing in their people, their mission and the quality of their patient care experience.  For me, its an honor, a privilege and a huge responsibility to help make this kind of contribution.  As one head surgeon told me after a staff meeting,

“Sam, I just attended a week long conference and I got more out of your one hour speech than the whole week at that conference.”

Recently, the CEO of a Hospital was giving me a tour of their facility, and we came upon the emergency area. It sure does move fast there. My observation is the medical and healthcare world is overwhelming and demanding. The amount of change that happens is incredible. People are responding to detail, the unexpected, new people, new technologies, new challenges, changes in the system, and the list goes on and on.

But, the key to making excellence real in a world of change is when you choose to care, improve, communicate better, find purpose in your work, do a little extra, lend a helping hand, encourage the people around you, and give your best through your attitude and actions.
It’s got to be “everyone on board” and heading the same direction to work. If it’s not, you add more problems to the equation and author more sad stories.


The positive to this story? The hospital where my doctor’s office is located has an excellent cafeteria employees and the food is fantastic. And that’s all I have to say about this.