36 and Counting Cultivating Positive Relationships Customer Service General Marketing Healthcare Opinion

Caregivers want to be just that despite a challenging system

In a 2017 interview, writer Micah Solomon talked with former Cleveland Clinic Chief Experience Officer James Merlino, MD about the desire and need for healthcaring in arguably the most important customer service area of our lives.

Healthcare workers are motivated to provide a positive, caring experience in a system where frustration, burnout and outside money-driven influences can work create hardships and obstacles. Merlino stresses the importance of giving care to the caregivers so that they can provide good “customer service.” Patient criteria for assessing how well they were taken of, not surprisingly, came down to common-sense basics.

Notes Merlino,

“In a study of over 3.5 million medical practice encounters, our researchers asked the question, ‘What makes people recommend either their doctor or practice?’ The top three drivers were interesting:  confidence in their provider; teamwork from the clinicians; and whether providers and staff showed concern for their worries. The customer experience is fundamentally about doing the right thing and caring about the things that all of us in medicine should care about—competency, teamwork, and compassion.”

To help drive this, Merlino continues,

“High-performing hospitality organizations understand how to motivate their people and keep them focused on the big picture of personal-relationship-oriented interactions through the use of good processes and cultural alignment. Those are lessons that we should study, learn from, and translate to the healthcare environment…Healthcare delivery is hard!”

He adds,

“It brings tremendous pressure, anxiety, uncertainty to patients and to caregivers, and we often ignore or don’t think about the impact on the people doing the delivery. Everywhere I go now, everywhere I speak, I hear from nurses and physicians about burnout, compassion fatigue, and depression. As we think about how we improve what we do—how we get to achieve high performance—we need to be thinking not just about patient-facing strategies and tactics, but we need to ask ourselves what we’re doing to care for our healthcare providers…The amazing thing is that healthcare workers are passionate and committed and truly in this for the higher purpose of reducing patient suffering!”

He recommends nurturing caregiver engagement as a cornerstone of improvement, noting that engaged cultures drive high performance in such areas as safety, quality and experience. He emphasizes that “high performance in all of these areas influences financial outcomes as well.” Merlino identifies four drivers of engagement: focusing on patients and their safety, addressing such negative workplace obstacles as bullying, promoting teamwork and respect, and offering avenues for managers and leaders to develop better skills in this arena.

As with so many areas of customer service, healthcare faces ongoing, unrelenting pressure to sacrifice positive patient experience in the name of cost savings. This is counterintuitive, as there are many examples of companies achieving better profitability by maximizing their levels of customer service—thereby engendering customer loyalty, trust and longevity. It’s time to cast the healthcare bottom-liners out on their bottoms.

This is the fourth installment of a series about healthcare “customer service” addressing patient caring. While there is much to lament about the decided lack of “bedside manner” afforded many under today’s ailing healthcare system, there are bright spots as well. This series focuses on exemplary healthcaring innovations that hopefully will spread quickly and help cure what ails us.


Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm celebrating 36 years in business in 2018.

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