Training Technologists to Smile

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In many imaging offices, the reception staff is coached and scripted, and its members might even engage in role-playing exercises in order to create the best experience for patients. Once patients have been checked in, the next people with whom they will come in contact are likely to be technologists or technologist aides, who are unlikely to have received any effective level of customer-service training. Quite often, no one has instructed them in any service protocols at all. The absence of technologist customer-service training presents a situation in which a patient could be experiencing a smooth, welcoming visit, only to have that visit altered by a technologist who is rushed and ill-equipped to handle the various patient personalities faced each day. “It is so very important for technologists to receive customer-service training, especially in this current healthcare climate,” Jessica Montgomery, COO at Scottsdale Medical Imaging (SMIL) in Arizona, explains. “With radiology in danger of becoming more of a commodity, images can be read anywhere in the world. The competition is increasing, and to be one step ahead, you need to make sure that your staff, including the technologists, is armed with smiles and willingness simply to care for the patients.” Without customer-service training for technologists, a person who has come to the facility for an important MRI exam becomes the technologist’s 10am abdomen, rather than an important patient with a potentially serious medical condition. “Even though, as radiology professionals, we have an inherent concern for people and want to take care of them, we often get wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks, which can possibly be perceived by the patients as an uncaring attitude,” Montgomery says. “The educational course we provided gave our technologists the opportunity to reflect on what they already know, to dialogue some of their experiences, and to share their ideas with each other.” Technologist customer-service training can also have benefits beyond creating a satisfactory patient experience. “I have noticed not only more glowing patient-satisfaction surveys crossing my desk, but also increased staff camaraderie, and the feeling that SMIL cares enough to invest the time in growing them as professionals,” Montgomery says. The Technologist As Caregiver Ask 10 technologists, and at least five are likely to report that patients frequently say, “I don’t know why I am here.” Their expectation is that their technologists are going to answer that question with a specific condition. At the end of their studies, those same patients will ask their technologists what they see. Technologists are frequently mistaken for radiologists. If there is little or no communication between these technologists and their patients, the patients’ assumptions could create the opinion that the people that they believe to be their radiologists are abrupt or aloof. This image is supported by the tendency of technologists to speak in unfamiliar terms, which adds to patients’ frustration. Brian Olson, executive director of operations at Newport Diagnostic Center in Newport Beach, California, says, “Technolo-gists are, by nature, focused on the process. They can speak in a vernacular and operate in ways that do not always translate to a high level of customer satisfaction. Classic customer-service training provides vital tools for the technologist that facilitate effective communication and remind these highly trained professionals that our patients’ perceptions are their reality.” In every case, therefore, it is important for technologists to convey three simple messages to their patients:
  • technologists should first identify themselves as such and should state their first names (surnames are optional);
  • technologists should then tell patients what is going to happen next and how long it will take; and
  • at the end of exams, technologists should ask patients whether they have any questions and tell them when results should be expected.
This approach will usually create a higher level of patient compliance, which is important in a busy office with a tight schedule. Beyond compliance, this protocol will also help technologists finish what receptionists have started, so that patients experience the same level of good care throughout the office. Technologists’ customer care starts with a smile: a simple gesture so powerful that the Keihin Electric Express Railway Co, Tokyo, Japan, now requires employees to use special computer software to pass a smile-rating scan before interacting with passengers. Even more beneficial is empowering technologists with the ability to say, “I’m sorry,” not necessarily to admit guilt, but to acknowledge patients’ frustration. Breaking Down the Silos The special role of technologists can create an environment in which they work independently, with little or no regard for the effect that their patient care might have on their colleagues. Working in this style (in a functional silo) can have a profound effect on colleagues, particularly those in the billing department. Patients who have been treated well by technologists with customer-service training are far less likely to become agitated, for example, if they receive statements showing unpaid balances. With good technologist care, the chances are higher that these patients will call the office for an explanation in a calm manner, rather than venting their frustration on the billing department. “To patients, quality is often an unknown, and return customers are going to base their quality opinion of their experience on the people they encounter at the time of getting their exams done,” Montgomery says. Steve Smith is vice president, client services, The Imaging Center Institute, Tustin, California.