In the small primary care office where I work as an embedded behavioral health specialist we are metrics savvy. We have graphs showing numbers of patients completing depression screenings, shared decision-making tools, and data to demonstrate the health care team effectiveness with reducing emergency room visits. With all of our analytics and quality improvement efforts, we don’t measure how the hospitality of the front desk staff positively impacts a patients’ sense of well-being and engagement. The relational skills of the front desk make a daily impact on all who observe and interact with them.
Observing the front desk staff interactions reminds me of Miles, a classmate of one of my sons, who decided that he wanted to make a difference by opening one of the high school front doors - every school day for four years. He arrived early and greeted each student by name as they journeyed through his open door into the school. Miles’ entryway was well traveled. Did his greeting make a difference in the learning of students, in the community health of the school, or in the decisions students made throughout their day? When I observed him holding the door open I smiled more, listened with increased attunement, and felt a little softer in spirit.
|When patients check-out after an appointment, they have brief conversations of caring with the front desk staff. These meaningful conversations invite the patients to consider that they are more than their presenting problem or illness. "How is your grandson doing with his new job?” "Have you started planting your garden yet?” "Are you continuing to volunteer at Hospice?” The whole person is cared about. Greeting patients by name, welcoming with eye contact and an attentive smile may provide a needed healing balm and invitation to care for oneself.
||Patients can consider that they are more than their presenting problem or illness
Front Desk Ladies at Foresight Family Physicians Clinic
The attentiveness of the front office staff gives a "we’re here to help” message to patients. Changes in spirit and self-care occur with experiences of kindness rather than criticism. Common feelings of vulnerability and fears coming into a doctor’s office may ease with consistent affirming interactions.
Why is this important other than the front desk feel good take away? In my role as the behavioral health specialist I ask patients about what they value in life to highlight motivation for improving a specific aspect of health. Carrying the initial warm welcome, a patient may become more engaged when discussing health changes with a medical provider. If the initial interactions with the front desk staff were invalidating, the response with health care team members may lack some motivation. Courage and fortitude to move into new health behaviors are more likely to occur when we feel cared about and safe.
||Measuring kindness is not a clinical data point. Warm and brief conversations encourages values of kindness and trust. When asked about their motivation for quality service, the reply from the front desk reflects that they know they make a difference in patients’ lives. With smiles they discuss observing serious faces relax, laughing with the lonely, being trusted with a reflection of the visit, and hearing that they are called by name. Sandi, Cassi and Jennipher positively impact patient’s health care experience. Where ever we serve in our office, we have the common goal of helping patients with their health.
Patient-centered hospitality by the front office staff offers a significant gateway to health engagement; "you matter” is the message; the patient response of "I value myself” can be the result.
Lisa Barnes, LCSW, has transitioned from an over twenty-five year Clinical Social Worker in private psychotherapy practice to Integrated Health Specialist at Foresight Family Physicians in Grand Junction, CO. This career change has been enabled through CFHA mentors, part-time hospital and physician office work experiences, and many webinars! Lisa’s mission is to promote health in a health care system.