What's Your Civility Score?

May 5, 2011

The one thing that can never be replaced by sophisticated equipment is the level of courtesy that is extended to patients, colleagues, and staff.

Technology has changed medicine dramatically since 1952, when Dr. Virginia Apgar first developed a standardized system for evaluating the wellness of a newborn. But one thing that can never be replaced by sophisticated equipment is the level of courtesy that is extended to patients, colleagues, and staff.

I learned first-hand about the value of "medical manners" through a recent experience at a specialist's office.

After being referred to a respected dermatologist and waiting months to see him, I found myself facing an awkward dilemma when I checked in: my appointment was actually on a different date. Oops.

It doesn't matter who made the scheduling error; what matters is how the medical receptionist dealt with it. Rather than sending me on my way she smiled and said, "You've come all this way and you're here now, so let's see what we can do about this," while inviting me to take a seat. And before I could say "pre-cancerous" I was in the examination room having my worrisome lesion inspected by a calm and caring physician.

I was flabbergasted! I had fully expected to be turned away because of his busy schedule. Instead, I was invited to stay out of respect for mine.

That's an extraordinary example of clinical courtesy, and one that is difficult to replicate. But it leads to an interesting question: how would that scenario have played out in your office?

Following is an APGAR-like checklist that will help you evaluate the wellness of your practice. It's called the Civility Scoring System, and it's as simple as 1, 2, 3.

For each of these 10 statements, give yourself 1 point if it happens rarely in your practice, 2 points if it happens often, and 3 points if it happens always.

1. Patients are greeted by name: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

2. We dress in a professional manner: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

3. Patients are seen on time: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

4. The team speaks respectfully to & about one another: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

5. Our reception area & examination rooms are orderly: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

6. Staff members are pleasant and welcoming: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

7. We use terminology that patients understand: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

8. We are clear with our expectations of one another: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

9. Our system is efficient: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

10. When problems arise we focus on finding solutions: Rarely __ Often __ Always __

Civility Score:

10–15 points - Diagnosis: Dismal. Your practice needs a prescription for professionalism. That may mean an attitude, environment, staff, or communication adjustment. You have to start somewhere, so choose the factor that is most challenging and begin there. If the reception area is messy, have it cleaned up. If your office dynamics are affected by interpersonal tension, declare a truce. If patients are more confused when they leave than when they arrived, clarify your message.

15-25 points - Diagnosis: Mediocre. There's still room for improvement. You may be satisfied with the status-quo, but are your patients? Ask them! Consider creating a simple survey, and let them know you welcome their feedback. Or, take a moment at the end of their appointment to find out if they have any suggestions for smoothing out your scheduling system. You could also invite your colleagues and staff to share innovative ideas for improvement - you may be pleasantly surprised by what they come up with. Then, follow through and introduce some changes.

25–30 points - Diagnosis: Robust. Your patients, staff, and colleagues appreciate your proficient, caring, and courteous manner. You don't waste time, you ensure that others know what you're talking about, and you present yourself with confidence and compassion. You take good care of your employees, your office environment, and yourself, and you lead by example. Your systems and your staff work well, and your patients admire you because you respect them. And it doesn't get any better than that!

How can you raise your Civility Score? The same way you advise your patients to start an exercise program - by taking it one step at a time.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran forensic death investigator turned corporate civility consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. She can be reached at editor@physicianspractice.com. Or visit her website www.TheCivilityCEO.com.