Hopkins, At Your Service
Across the entire medical enterprise, there's renewed emphasis on how
we impress our patients-and each other.
When Gwen Henderson learned last year that a patient had nominated
her for the Oncology Center's Humanitarian Award for Clinical Service,
what surprised her was her own reaction.
One excellent team. Clockwise from
center, Donna Nemec, Sandra Bailey, Kelly Mercer, Linda Nauman
and Gwen Henderson, at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center at Green
Spring Station, won a quarterly Catch A Shining Star award, nominated
by a patient who insisted they be recognized as a group. While
thrilled by the honor, all say providing stellar service is its
own reward. "Patients look to us for help, but they're the
ones who inspire us," says Nauman.
"I've always been a service-oriented person," says Henderson,
a patient coordinator at Green Spring Station who's focused her entire
career on working with people, first as a supervisor on a production line,
then as a manager for a staffing company. "I've been recognized for
going the extra mile and being a team player. But getting that nomination
opened my eyes. No matter what we do, we're under the microscope. When
you think no one's watching, they are. Even though the patients who come
in here are very ill-they may slump in the waiting area and barely look
at you-they're really watching."
Henderson's point goes straight to the heart of a stepped-up Service
Excellence campaign, debuting this month, to help employees of every
Hopkins Medicine entity polish customer service. Called "Turn Up
the Heat," the campaign is homing in on first impressions-the myriad
clues we all process to decide whether we're being welcomed or shunted
Smiling, of course, goes a long way. But what the campaign isn't, says
Carol Woodward, is smile school. "It's about what we say, how we
say it, and what people see. There are lots of opportunities. Each patient
encounter is a first impression."
Woodward, senior project manager for Hopkins Hospital's human resources
department, is a member of the Service Excellence action group, a committee
headed by Hopkins Hospital Executive Vice President Judy Reitz and staffed
by representatives from every entity. One of the goals in working on
first impressions, she says, is to improve patients' satisfaction with
the non-medical aspects of their care: things like sensitivity to inconvenience,
wait times and insurance hassles. But, she adds, employees are people,
too. "We are each other's customers. Employee satisfaction also
should go up if we treat each other better."
It's What You Say
"Good afternoon. My name is Gwen and I'm going to verify your
For anyone whose life has been upended by a fearsome medical diagnosis,
just getting through treatment is daunting. Add appointments and referrals
and records and authorizations, and the feeling that your life has spun
hopelessly out of control can be overwhelming.
Patient services coordinator Gwen Henderson and her co-workers at Hopkins'
Green Spring Station oncology center so impressed one patient that she
insisted the entire group deserved recognition. In nominating them for
Catch A Shining Star, the Service Excellence awards program Hopkins
inaugurated last September, the patient said, "It was almost a
pleasure to go for treatment. The staff gave me hugs, encouragement
and smiles. No request was too much. They are always caring, concerned,
careful and responsive."
Though each employee has her own take on their collective achievement
in winning one of the quarterly awards, all agree that remembering to
see things from the patient's point of view is key-and not always easy
when their daily caseload can number as many as 60.
"I like to make patients feel important one-to-one," says
nurse clinician Linda Nauman. "Just knowing and using the person's
name when they come in shows you care."
"It's already a stressful time for them," agrees patient services
coordinator Donna Nemec, who, like Henderson, schedules and coordinates
appointments and helps patients iron out their insurance difficulties.
"I try to let them know ahead of time what to expect. Even though
there are a lot of demands on our time-you can spend hours on insurance
issues-I try to spend as much time as I can with each patient. It's
not like this is a mill or an assembly line."
"You talk to people, not at them," adds Henderson. "You
treat everyone with the utmost respect-you never know when you're gonna
be on that side of the desk. Maybe you don't always feel your best,
but you take ownership and do your job when you come to work. Now when
someone's having a difficult day, I may go in the bathroom and go, Grrrr,
but I come back out and I'm smiling. And it gets good results."
"You have to realize that there are people who are difficult in
life, and when they're hit with cancer, well, you're not gonna change
their personality," explains Kelly Mercer, a 16-year veteran of
oncology nursing. "If a patient is yelling at you, take a break,
walk away, compose yourself. You can't take it personal."
It's How You Say It
"Ms. Johnson, I can help you with that."
When Jauné Cary's telephone rings, she knows before she even
answers that the caller has a problem.
A customer service representative for Johns Hopkins HealthCare, the
Health System's medical insurance arm, Cary fields inquiries from medical-assistance
patients enrolled in Hopkins' Medicaid managed care program, Priority
Partners. Many callers are either very young or very old, and struggle
to understand both their benefits and their responsibilities. "Customer
service," says Cary, "is basically educating the customer.
The real meat of my job is teaching enrollees not just about their health
insurance, but about health care."
The two-day customer-service training Cary got when she stepped into
her post a year ago has proved invaluable to her. The program teaches
practical skills-how to put someone on hold, calm them if they're irate,
handle your own reactions.
Just avoiding words like maybe and hopefully, says Maura Walden, JHHC's
director of training and performance improvement, is important. "How
would you feel," she asks, "if you were on a plane and the
pilot said, Hopefully, we'll be landing at BWI in 10 minutes?"
Concern over prescription coverage is a recurring theme for Cary's customers.
"Telling them, 'I can assist you with that' really prevents complaints
and gives them confidence," she says. And if we can't do what they
want, I try to back it up with an alternative. They don't mind holding
if you tell them what you're doing."
Among the biggest stumbling blocks to providing excellent service, says
Walden, is thinking it takes too much time. And feeling that it's not
in the employee's control.
"Our customer service reps have to take a lot of calls each day,
so they've got to be fast, but the quality has to be there, too,"
she says. "It doesn't take longer to treat people well. If they're
upset, express empathy. Tell them you will help. Be specific about what
you'll do and when you'll do it. Make sure they agree with the solution
you propose. So often we focus on what we're unable to do, but there's
always something we can do, even if it's just getting the customer one
step closer to a solution."
Walden understands that if someone starts out being rude or angry, the
knee-jerk reaction is, Well, I'm not gonna be nice to that person. But,
she emphasizes, "No one can make you be rude-it's not about genetics,
or whether you're a Scorpio woman," she says. "You are in
control. Instead, you can say, Mr. Jones, I can help you with that,
but I can't take that abusive language."
"You have to remember," adds Green Spring Station's Donna
Nemec, "that it's not you, it's the situation. When I have a person
on the phone who's too upset, I say, Could you hold for a minute please?
When I come back, a lot of times, they're a different person-they don't
have the same verbiage, they get to the point."
It's What They See
"I was really impressed that staff brought in chairs to accommodate
Every work group has issues: too many meetings, dysfunctional systems,
personality conflicts, the list goes on. How employees-and managers-deal
with such internal sore spots affects not only their own equilibrium,
but that of visitors as well.
"The patient who nominated us for the Catch A Shining Star Award
never came in without complimenting us on how well we all work together,"
says Green Spring Station oncology nurse Kelly Mercer. "I think
it helps that we all understand and respect each other's jobs."
"We're a small group, so everyone needs to know what everyone else
is doing," agrees administrative manager Sandra Bailey. "We
have a monthly staff meeting for everyone, including the doctors and
the nurse manager from the East Baltimore campus. We brainstorm, trouble
shoot, make plans for improvement. It's a group effort."
"At a satellite location like Green Spring, there may not be another
person to follow through," explains Donna Nemec, "so you have
to take the ball, you have to know how to take care of everything from
beginning to end. If one person's not here, another one jumps in. We
kinda know each other's next steps."
Not that it's always been smooth sailing. "We've worked on being
open with each other," says Linda Nauman. "We've come a long
way as a team. It's like getting married-it took everybody's effort."
Still, as Gwen Henderson puts it, "If the group is satisfied, the
customers are extra satisfied." And that, she says, proves one
"Wow! They're still watching."
-Mary Ann Ayd