Recently, Sandy and I had dinner with a dentist and his wife before we visited their practice for observation. The restaurant was in the airport hotel where we were staying. We were greeted and seated immediately and as we settled in, both of us noticed the centerpiece; a trendy looking slate stone vase that held a single bamboo shoot. Sounds like a great concept, right? If only the bamboo wasn’t falling over and the leaves weren’t yellow and wilted. It was downright sad.
Immediately, this symbol of good luck became a depressing sign, so we removed it from the table. It might also have been a sign for the lack of attention the restaurant received from the management and employees. As the dinner progressed, I noticed the bread was stale, the water glasses sat empty without a refill, and the meals were plated with little care. I began to wonder whether the food prep area was sanitary. Was the walk-in refrigerator temperature to “code”? Did the employees wash their hands? I didn’t have high expectations for the meal. Luckily, our server was decent and our food was acceptable but the experience was less than what I expect from this type of restaurant. I left underwhelmed.
What we discovered were telltale signs that no one was paying attention to the details. If those details weren’t being tended to, what about the things that really mattered? In their book,“In Search of Excellence,” Peters and Waterman make the following observation:
“When there are coffee stains on the tray tables, passengers wonder about the quality of the maintenance of the airplane’s engines.“
These signs undermine confidence. The same is true in your practice. For example, on a recent consultation visit to an upscale cosmetic practice, I immediately noticed something that seemed out of place. The sign in front of the building and the landscaping was top notch. The reception area was gorgeous and it was obvious an interior designer was consulted. The environment was warm and the sounds were soothing. Then I saw it. The spot on the carpet. It did not belong. When I asked the group about it later in the day, most of the team had no idea what I was talking about. Two staff members did recall the spot and said that it had been there for as long as they could remember. No one seemed to feel it was a big deal. That spot was as significant as the dying bamboo centerpiece.
Point 1: Patients have no way to judge your clinical abilities and the indicators they will use to gauge your expertise are the physical plant, the environment you create and the way you engage your patients in the process. If the little details aren’t tended to, your patients will wonder if the things that truly matter – proper diagnosis, clinical expertise, sanitation standards – are also being overlooked.
Point 2: Your team must be vigilant all the time. Create a culture where your staff is encouraged to pay attention to the little things – the stain on the carpet, the full trash can in the patient’s bathroom, a patient’s concerned look or the negative comment he or she might make on their way out. Everything matters. Patients notice. You can’t let down your guard.
Over the course of the next several articles, we will review the physical plant and environment and shed light on those areas you may want to pay more attention to in your practice. If there is a specific area you would like for me to address, please comment below or email and let me know.