Navigating patient perception and teamwork

In her debut blog, Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group, writes why patient perception of your office can be emotion-laden and as quick as a hail storm of controversy because patient care puts you and your team in a fish bowl.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs will be an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Advanstar.


Did you see the post-game Super Bowl kiss? The kiss between Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick and his daughter?

Patient perception of your office can be as emotion-laden and as quick as the hailstorm of controversy surrounding this brief exchange between father and daughter.

Patient care puts you and your team in a fishbowl. Patients see how you dress, what you eat and how you speak to others. Ouch.

Previous blog: Daydreaming of the perfect practice

That type of scrutiny can turn critical if the patient is forced to wait longer than he or she feels is appropriate or if the patient is naturally a critical person. Psychologists have developed clever ways to describe how first impressions are made and what factors come into play. Technical Assistance Research Programs document how critical, dissatisfied consumers are less loyal and tell more people about their dissatisfaction than happy, or satisfied, consumers.

I’m not going to think about that today. Instead, join me in thinking how management can encourage its team to create a positive and permanent impression with each and every patient encounter.

What your team needs is clear and explicit expectations and no comment on underlying emotions.  The same industrial psychologists that monitor human behavior as it relates to purchase decisions assure us that guilt and worry keep individuals unbalanced and unproductive in the workplace.

These emotions create an atmosphere of gossip and cliques. 

NEXT: Putting pointers into practice


The crux of process improvement in the area of professional conduct is that professionalism is itself a nebulous word and open to personal interpretation.

Putting Pointers into Practice                   
Implementation begins with clear communication. Discuss various scenarios with your employees by allowing them to share their feelings about professionalism issues. Start the ball rolling with a question about professionalism: "How do you feel when a coworker teases you in front of a patient?"

More blog posts: In defense of Sen. Rand Paul

Listen to what employees say. You may discover that there is a problem in your office. Don’t interrupt, don’t go all boss and start lecturing; just listen. Offer encouraging comments to keep the ball rolling. Now it’s your turn to give direction. Make it brief. State your case in a relaxed, yet firm voice. It might sound something like the following:

Here’s what I expect of each of you when a patient is present:

1.     Focus on the Patient: Treat the patient as an honored guest and refrain from remarks that might embarrass either the patient or the coworker.

2.     Treat Each Other As Equals: Remember that we are all human and, as one adult to another, remind the individual “caught up in the moment” that patients have ears. Instead of allowing a situation to escalate, respectfully remind your teammates of our goal of excellence.

3.     And lastly, forgive each otherand yourself for all real or imagined short-fallings or hurts. Appreciate that excellence in patient care is only achieved when we each respect each other while we focus on the task at hand.  

NEXT: Concluding thoughts


Gaining market share and improving professionalism is not the result of doing any one thing 1,000% better. It is the result of doing thousands of things one percent better than your competition. In as much as a medical-based eye care practitioner and its optical can’t fit well into  an Instagram, it is also not possible to address all the factors that affect customer service into a single blog post.