Healthcare Hospitality: Meeting the Needs of Your Patient
We all know that a patient who feels welcomed and respected by his healthcare provider is more likely to come back when he needs medical attention. There are things that you and your staff can do to improve your patient’s experience—and, by extension, the likelihood that you will have a positive impact on his health.
Try asking yourself (and your staff) the following questions:
When you are serving a Black men, who is likely to have been overlooked by the healthcare system in the past, it’s important to consider how your practice might look through his eyes:
- Checking in: How is he greeted at the Check-In desk? Do staff make a concerted effort to be pleasant and helpful, even when things are very busy? Can others overhear things he might wish to keep private (e.g., the reason for the appointment, financial issues)?
- Respect for difference: Has everyone in your office been trained to treat all patients—regardless of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, etc.—with courtesy? For example, are transgender patients called by their preferred name and pronoun? Do their medical records reflect that information?
- Representation: When your patient looks around, does he see himself reflected in the faces of the people on your staff and in the artwork on your office walls? This shows that you practice inclusion in your hiring and in the professional image you choose to project.
You’ve spent years learning how to provide top-notch medical care—and your patient has spent his entire life in his body. That combined knowledge is a great foundation for your partnership!
- Ask about his health goals—both for the visit and in general. It’s important to be clear on what your patient expects—and what you can realistically do for him.
- Swear off shaming. Hammering on his risky or unhealthy behaviors won’t make him feel welcome. A better alternative is to focus on his health goals and work together on a practical plan to help him achieve them. For example: If he’s an HIV-negative man who has sex with other men, this is a perfect opportunity to bring up the subject of PrEP.
- Don’t speak disparagingly of “Dr. Google.” If your patient mentions that he’s been searching on the web for health information, you may be tempted to scoff—but it’s a great thing that he’s showing an interest and taking action. Try suggesting websites that you trust to provide reliable information (e.g., sites certified by the Health on the Net Foundation), then talk about the results. You may learn something!
There are many things that affect a patient’s health, including the community he lives in and social/economic factors. If you take time to learn about those things, you will improve his experience and the quality of care you can offer. Here are some starting points:
- Recognize your own biases: No one wants to admit to having biases or prejudices, but we all do, because that’s part of being human. The first step is to recognize this—and the next is to make a conscious choice to learn to do better. A commitment to ongoing training for you and your staff is a great follow-up.
- Review your paperwork. Do your intake forms allow patients to self-identify their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity?
- Don’t assume—ask. We tend to have default assumptions about people that can get in the way of providing appropriate care—especially when our assumptions involve sexual matters. When talking with your patient about his sexual health, ask questions: “Are you having sex now?” “Do you have sex with men, women, transgender people, or some combination?” and “What kinds of sexual acts do you engage in or prefer?”
- Consider economic and social factors. Do you know if your patient has the ability and resources to follow through on treatment? Does he have housing and adequate amounts of healthy food? Can he afford the medicines you want to prescribe? Can he take time off of work to follow up? Can you connect him to appropriate supports and services?
It can be difficult to keep to a tight schedule, but time is as precious to your patient as it is to you—maybe even more so. Taking off from work can mean he’s missing pay or running the risk of being fired. That’s why it’s so important to show respect for his time.
- Have a policy for handling your delays. Your office probably has a policy for handling patients who arrive late for their appointments—but what do you do when you’re the one running late? If you’re running more than 15 minutes late, ask your staff to alert your patient via text, phone, or email and give him the option to reschedule.
- Review his file and medical history before the appointment. A patient who has to repeat his medical history to you every time he sees you is likely to start looking for a new provider.