Mass. General 'Be Nice' Video Meant For Staff But Useful For Patients

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"Is this begging for parody or what?" I thought. Massachusetts General Hospital paid its employees $250 each to watch a video reminding them to be nice to patients?!

That was my first reaction upon reading this scrupulously deadpan Boston Globe story headlined "Mass. General employees watch customer service video — for $250." It carefully notes that the $250 incentive brought complaints from some competitors at a time of tight health care dollars, but also that such pay is "an approach common in other industries and that proved to be an overwhelming success for the hospital."

(Dear Boston Globe: At times like this, I can't help hoping that you'll be bought by The Onion or The Daily Show. Can't you have even a little fun with news that makes people go "Huh?")

So how could one best bowdlerize the earnest, mission-driven video above featuring Mass. General chief Dr. Peter Slavin? One idea: You could provide translations to plainer speech. For example:

Massachusetts General Hospital president Peter L. Slavin (MGH)
Massachusetts General Hospital president Peter L. Slavin (MGH)

Slavin: "It's also important that we speak well of each other and of other departments when interacting with patients and their loved ones, to help them feel assured of our teamwork in caring for them."

Translation: When your colleagues are jerks, do not scare patients by telling them about it.

Slavin: "There is no doubt that even long-time patients and their families can often be nervous and uncomfortable when coming to the hospital or visiting their doctor or other clinician. How we first greet them often sets the tone for a successful positive admission or visit."

Translation: Most people walking into our halls are scared out of their wits. Have a heart.

Readers, other translations welcome. But in truth, I come away from watching the 11-minute video with the sense that though it was meant for the hospital's 22,000 staffers, it is an excellent tutorial for every one of us as potential patients.

Consider these "Always behaviors" asked of staff:

• Choose the attitude of 'I'm here to help.'
• Make eye contact with guests and say hello.
• Wear your name badge.
• Listen carefully.
• Respond to questions and concerns.
• Hold doors and yield to wheelchairs and stretchers.

Was that your experience when last you were in a hospital? Also, some interesting digital-world points:

"If you enter an elevator with a patient who just received bad news and you have headphones on with music blaring, you may convey insensitivity and lack of respect."

"Maintain appropriate use of cellphones and iPods, and curb the personal Internet use and Website browsing."

And more. Did you know that you should be able to expect these from medical staffers treating you?

"When entering a room, always greet the patient and their loved ones, and take the time to state your name, title and your role in their care."

"Keep patients updated, especially if they will see multiple caregivers or are left in an exam room or waiting room in between visits."

"Always make sure to ask for and answer any questions the patients may have and make sure they understand all your instructions."

"Saying goodbye is just as important. Let's all make sure we leave a last impression that's just as pleasant and welcoming as the first."

it's a bit jargony, but the video advises staff that when problems arise — when, say, a patient has been waiting more than an hour for an appointment — the guiding acronym is LEAD: Listen, Empathize, Apologize, and Do the right thing, with timely corrective action.

That long-waiting patient, for example, is offered two free parking passes. I took careful note of that little segment: Next time I'm kept waiting a long time at any hospital, at least I'll know what some in the industry think is the going price for my wasted time. Whether it's a fair price — well, that's a different question...

This program aired on February 26, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.




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