All It Takes is One

A few years ago, I was in charge of reviewing all of the social media posts about our hospital. I sifted through everything on Facebook, Yelp, Google +, and the like and added those comments to our tracking and trending forms of what was being said about us. That, along with our comments from the surveys, helped us determine which areas were doing great and which needed a little extra assistance.

One comment that stands out in my memory was a 5-star Yelp review from a woman who was over the moon about the great care she’d gotten in our Emergency Department. She’d written several paragraphs, each one more glowing than the last, about all the wonderful people who had cared for her, how quickly she’d been seen, and how this was her hospital of choice, despite living closer to our competitor. 


She had a list of nurses’ and physicians’ names and showered praise over each of them, likening them to gods and angels. It was quite a review.

I remember sending it to the team; the ED wasn’t accustomed to hearing good news. More often than not, when people post on social media it’s to complain and trash-talk (often anonymously). So I was happy in this case to send over something to brighten their day.

Not 72 hours later, she posted again, this time calling us THE WORST HOSPITAL EVER (emphasis hers) and warning people to never go there. EVER. She got my attention.

I took a walk over to the ED and asked what had happened at her last visit, why she had gone from our #1 fan to our biggest hater.

As it turns out, there was one person with whom she’d interacted and it didn’t go well. It wasn’t so much a negative interaction as it was a just-not-quite-as-good-as-the-previous-ones kind of interaction. We’d done such an impressive job earlier, that we set the bar pretty high. This staff member wasn’t quite as attentive and it set us back. A lot. 

I thought long and hard about how to handle this. She’d left her name, so it wouldn’t have been inappropriate for us to contact her. Should I call her? Should the manager of the ED call her? Should the person she’d complained about call her? 

Ultimately, I did. I was used to these kind of conversations and it was certainly in my job description to follow up on reviews, positive or negative. I braced myself and dialed her number. 

She picked up on the first ring and, after I introduced myself, went into a tirade about how completely awful and disappointing we were. I listened, didn’t interrupt or try to apologize at first. Just let her talk. And talk she did.

“It sounds like this visit was very different from the others,” were my first words after she’d finished. “I’m so sorry. I can hear how disappointed you are.”

“You’re damn right I am,” she continued. I let her continue. She said mostly the same things she’d said before, but it clearly mattered to her that I heard them. 

“Gloria (not her real name), I’m so sorry we let you down. You came to expect a certain level of care and service from us and we didn’t deliver this time. I’m sorry we missed the mark the other day. What can we do moving forward?”

After a few seconds of silence she said, “Nothing. It’s in the past. But I’m glad you called.” 

“Gloria, I hope it’s not any time soon, but if you ever need to go to an emergency department again, whether it’s here or another hospital, I hope you receive the level of care you expected from us.”

“Well, I know you guys can do it. You did it before, you can do it again.” She paused. “I love your hospital. I don’t want to go anywhere else. But you have to do better, okay? I know you can do better. Promise me you’ll do better.”

I thanked her for talking with me and she thanked me for calling her. I was glad I did. Until that call, I don’t think I realized that people really do form relationships with their hospitals. This was her hospital. It was familiar. She felt safe there. We needed to reassure her that this one bad experience was not going to be the new normal.

All it takes is one bad interaction. It can completely undo all the goodwill you’ve built up with your community. If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to apologize, don’t pass it up.

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

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