Tell Me Again What it is You Do?

It’s funny trying to explain to people what I do for a living. 

I get a lot of blank stares, puzzled looks, or people who ask if I’m a decorator. (Decorator? Really?) But mostly, people think I’m the complaint department. And I am to some degree. Complaints and grievances are a big part of the job, to be sure. But there’s so much more to it than that.

In several hospitals at which I’ve worked, there’s a patient relations team and a patient experience team. The patient relations team handles the complaints like poor service, lost belongings, and miscommunication. They do the internal investigation, follow up with patients, and resolve the grievances within 30 days. There is always more than enough to keep them busy. The patient experience team is there to change the culture with the hope of one day making the relations team obsolete. 

The experience team puts together the Standards of Behavior for the entire organization. They overhaul new employee orientation to be primarily about service. They do one-on-one coaching for staff and physicians. They create and lead a Patient and Family Advisory Council. They look at all the shiny new technology aimed at improving patient satisfaction and make recommendations about which ones to invest in and which ones to avoid. They analyze the survey data and devise plans for improvement. And they take the heat if scores don’t go up.

Culture change is hard. It takes a really long time and yet so many executive teams are results-driven. They want to see the numbers move right away. I don’t blame them, but that’s really not how it works. I once had a CEO who wanted daily patient experience scores on his desk every morning. Daily. I obliged, but told him I wasn’t going to take any action on daily scores, only the things we saw as trends over time. I didn’t last long there. 

But it gets back to what I do for a living. The short answer is, “I create systems in healthcare designed to provide the very best in service excellence.” That includes a lot of things, most of them proactive, rather than reactive. 

When the systems are designed well, the right people are in place, and they have the tools and support they need, great things happen. That’s what I do for a living.

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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