Significant Stat: Medical Errors

In the United States, medical errors cost $17 billion to $29 billion per year. (source)

Advice from Alexandra Valentin, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

If there is one thing we all have in common, it is the fact that we are all patients at some point. As patients, we rely on the competency as well as the genuine care from healthcare providers. However, as physician Brian Goldman points out in his TedTalk, doctors make mistakes—just like everyone else in the world. We can now search the Internet and find out which healthcare professionals and organizations have the least amount of errors, and the accessibility of this information has created greater awareness of patient experience and safety. Dr. A. E. Joiner, a celebrated orthopaedic surgeon from Alabama, credits his success to having a second opinion from another doctor, limiting his case load, treating people really well and getting to know them before and after surgery. At The Ritz-Carlton, we believe that a strong culture of service excellence can lead to a reduction of errors, as well as a reduction of complications. One of our Service Values stresses our commitment to “creating a safe and accident-free environment,” and like Dr. Joiner, we feel that genuine engagement with the people you are serving can greatly impact your outcomes. 

Join us for a one-day symposium on November 12th. Take advantage of the early-bird rate and sign-up by September 1st. The day includes a Ritz-Carlton executive panel with Herve Humler, president & chief operations officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C.

Dear Ritz-Carlton: Hospitals and The Ritz-Carlton?

Dear Ritz-Carlton: What can hospitals learn from The Ritz-Carlton?

Answer from Alexandra Valentin, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Head Shot Alexandra Valentin

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services asserts that “good medical care depends upon effective communication between patients and providers. Ineffective communication can lead to improper diagnosis and delayed or improper medical treatment.” Safety is at risk when communication is poor. At The Ritz-Carlton, communication is the essence of our legendary customer service. The systems behind our smiles—such as employee empowerment and daily line-ups—lay the framework for effective communication. We also practice being attuned to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests. Healthcare professionals must learn what is important to patients. Are you welcoming patients with a concierge mindset? Are you making them feel at home? Are you anticipating their needs — like an extra blanket, a cup of water, or maybe a “do not disturb” sign to minimize noise? Are you following up at discharge? Have you exceeded expectations? Even though guests typically come to The Ritz-Carlton for either business or pleasure, at hospitals or at the doctor’s office, patients deserve to be treated as humans. After all, one of the definitions of healthcare is “the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered.” Effective communication can allow us to tap into the whole person. It allows for a give and take of thoughts and feelings. And most importantly, it allows us to make sure everyone is safe. 

Join us for a one-day symposium, “Your Journey to Service Excellence.” The day includes a keynote speaker, a Q&A session with The Ritz-Carlton executive panel, an optional networking reception and presentations about legendary service, employee engagement and a customer-centric culture.

Service to Smile About

Transformation is Dr. Blackman’s specialty.

As an orthodontist, Scott Blackman skillfully straightens crooked teeth, changing the appearance of the children and adults who come to him for help. But that’s not all he transforms. A champion of service excellence, Blackman reshaped the culture of his orthodontist practice from the inside out, enabling his staff to deliver customized service to every patient.

When his professional career began 18 years ago, Blackman felt something was missing from the service he provided. He recognized outstanding service in other businesses but found it to be sorely lacking in the healthcare industry. A visit to a healthcare professional typically meant patients spent long periods in the waiting room and received impersonal service … exactly what Blackman didn’t want happening in his office.

An Inspirational Greeting

A pivotal experience in 2012 became the motivation for Blackman to look for ways to transform the service his patients received.

“It was when my family and I were vacationing at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Resort,” he explained. “We walked around a corner in the hotel and an employee we hadn’t even met yet greeted us with, ‘Hello Dr. and Mrs. Blackman, how are you this afternoon?’” That simple guest experience made a huge impression.

Later that day, while relaxing on the beach, Blackman thought, “This is what I’m talking about,” referring to the service his family had experienced. “What if we married this with what we do?”

Thinking the question through, Blackman concluded, if people choose to stay in hotels based on service standards, the same philosophy would apply when families select an orthodontist for their dental care. Yet, he wasn’t sure how to put a system in place that would bring about the necessary changes.

Building and Staffing for Service Excellence

Throughout his quest for new and higher service standards Blackman read books, did research and eventually found what he was looking for when he attended two Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center courses: “Legendary Service—Best Practices for Service Excellence in Healthcare,” and “’Radar on-Antenna Up’: The Ritz-Carlton’s Fulfillment of Unexpressed Wishes and Needs.” These, plus a multi-day Executive Education program with The Leadership Center team, allowed Blackman to take all the “big, important ideas” he wanted his practice to embody and put them into a format to devise a system for change and sustainability. “From our hiring process to performance assessments to benchmarking results, we basically had to redevelop everything,” Blackman said.

With his personalized service standards, goals and business credo in place, Blackman headed back to his office, ready to implement the changes. Part of Blackman’s culture transformation included moving his practice into a newly built facility; one he put a lot of planning into, “based on the service we wanted to deliver,” he explained. As a result, the design of the interior space enhanced his patients’ experience and eliminated wait times. “We wanted to live up to our promise to each patient so we created multiple common areas where the floor plan helped relieve any bottlenecks in the office.”

When asked what the biggest hurdle to delivering exceptional customer service was, Blackman quickly responded, “You have to find the employees who have heart. It isn’t easy to obtain and retain the best people, but it has to be done.”

Today Blackman says he has “the strongest team of employees in 18 years.” Made up of new and long-term personnel, the team is made to feel like family and is encouraged to treat patients the same way. “My employees take ownership in their work,” said Blackman, who relies heavily on his staff to deliver service well beyond the norm. “There’s no need to micromanage when you hire people you trust and believe in.”

Aligning to Service Standards Daily

The service standards Blackman and his employees practice align closely with those performed at Ritz-Carlton properties. For example, each morning before patients arrive, Blackman and his team gather for their “Line Up” where everyone stands in a circle to review their 10 service standards.

Next, they discuss their version of The Ritz-Carlton’s “Three Steps of Service,” — key principles and objectives for interacting with patients.

  1. Always use the patient’s name when greeting and speaking with them; review what service the patient is there for
  2. Anticipate patients’ needs and never leave a patient alone in a room
  3. Make sure patients get the “fond farewell” — a personalized “thank-you” and “good-bye” followed by an escort to the front office

Blackman’s team takes time to note specifics of their patients’ lives, like anniversaries and birthdays, making it easy to mention those details during an appointment. They’ve even gone so far as to make sure a patient’s favorite tea is available when they arrive for their appointment.

Proper Maintenance

In addition to focusing externally on their clients, Blackman and his team tackle internal procedures with what he calls “problem management.” “For instance,” said Blackman, “we discuss any broken systems where we didn’t do what we wanted to in a given situation,” a critical element when resolving issues and fine-tuning the system.

Reflecting on the success of the culture transformation he achieved, Blackman says he is “amazed” at how his employees and patients benefit from the best practices he put in place. They genuinely feel the effect of his motto, “We’re family serving family,” which is apparent from his employees’ posts on the office Facebook page, “Reflections, An Orthodontic Experience” and from patient testimonials such as, “The doctors and staff are wonderful professionals who go above and beyond my needs,” and “From the beginning, Dr. Blackman … made us feel as if we are part of the ‘family.’”

Now that’s something to smile about! 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.