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“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” Winnie the Pooh/A. A. Milne

Create a Great Hospice Experience

A great experience is a powerful differentiator in any market and is especially true for the hyper competitive hospice industry.

Working towards creating a great experience for your patients and their families creates a feedback loop that will positively impact referrals, testimonials, reviews, CAHPS scores as well as your teams’ morale and attrition rates.

However, creating a great experience is difficult under the best of circumstances. It’s an especially difficult prospect when dealing with end-of-life care. How can hospice agencies deliver a great experience that differentiates your agency from the competition?

5 Tips to Creating a Culture of Great Experiences

Tip # 1. Empathy

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This skill is must have across the board. Whether a team member interacts with patients or not, instilling and promoting empathy across your agency is the foundation of creating a great experience.

Empathy creates understanding. If patients, families, caregivers, and yes, co-workers & employees feel understood, they feel valued. When people feel valued it transforms every interaction into a positive experience.

Tips to Build Empathy
  • Patients facing death are often in pain, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The situation is also painful for their loved ones. Consciously work towards recognizing & understanding that when a patient or family lashes out and is rude or aggressive it isn’t a personal attack but a reaction to their pain, lack of understanding & loss of control.  While The first step is putting yourself in their shoes.
  • Acknowledge their feelings: You may not like how they express their pain, but actively acknowledge that they have good reason to feel the way they do.
  • Examine your own actions & motivations:  Are you actively putting the patients’ & caregivers’ needs at the forefront. Are you rushing through the visit? Hearing is not listening. Are you taking the time to listen and hear? Or are you more concerned with completing your tasks?
  • Ask questions: Don’t wait to be asked and to answer just the questions being asked at that moment in time. As an experienced hospice professional you’ve probably heard just about every question before. Turn those around and be proactive while talking with patients and their family.

Tip # 2. Knowledge

Spinning off of the previous tip on empathy, team members should have a deep understanding of the care they are providing and of hospice at a high level.  Your team should be current on all the latest rules and regulations as well as experienced in the variety of situations patients and families find themselves in.

When patients and families can feel secure in your level of expertise, it provides a sense of security and control in a situation that can feel totally out of control.

Tips to Improve Knowledge
  • Consistent cross-training: Team members need to get out of their comfort zone and participate in cross-discipline training. While a nurse won’t become a social worker and a social worker is not the head of compliance, having a solid understanding of these aspects of hospice will instill a deep level of confidence that patients and family will feel.
  • Role play: Simulate Situations &have team members demonstrate expertise on the spot by having another team member pose as a customer. This is particularly effective as other team members will be able to better simulate educated customers and ask some of the more challenging questions.
  • Get training out of the office: Get employees out of the office to attend seminars, trade shows and conferences. Provide an opportunity for them to network and learn from other pros and stay current on best practices and new regulations. They will come back motivated and better educated.

Tip #3: Agility

Especially in healthcare, things won’t always go as planned.

You will get requests or run into situations and dynamics that are new and haven’t been covered in training.

Experience, knowledge, training, empathy will help come up with a solution most of the time, but what happens when they don’t? What happens when you just don’t know what to do?

Tips to Improve Agility
  • Plan for communication: Clearly define before a team member gets stuck who they should turn to when it happens. Because it will. Define your chain of command. Is it the admin? The CEO? The office manager?
  • Plan for realistic communication: Is that chain of command realistic? Does the admin have the time and availability to take these calls? Make sure you have backup communications resources in place. Identify who else team members can reach out to for help.
  • Plan for how to communicate: Especially with HIPPA, how will a team member quickly get help? Will they text or email or call or does their situation have to wait for a meeting?

Tip #4: Follow Up

Following up is a key component of creating a culture of great experiences.

Tips to Improve Follow Up
  • Manage expectations: Before you can follow up you need to manage expectations. If you don’t set expectations, the patient and family will set their own. For example:

a. Make sure patients know that after-hours calls are answered by a service

b. Remind patients that not every call warrants a visit

c. Remind patients that even if a call does require a visit, it may take a while as the nurse might be with another patient.

  • Be Proactive: Identify situations & times when patients and families tend to run into problems. For example, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, family in from out of town. These are all times when emotions can run high and stress increases. Work towards having your team recognize these times before your team members are treated rudely or aggressively.
  • Create a rewards program: Tie the rewards program to improving follow ups. Track how quickly calls are responded to. How soon after a visit is cancelled is it rescheduled. Turn following up into a a core aspect of job performance that is rewarded.

Tip #5: Be Positive

Patients and their families want to know what you can do, not what you can’t.

How your team members respond to patients and families will impact how they see your agency.

Tips to Improve Positivity
  • Role play situations: For example, when asked, “if something happens should we go to the hospital?’ instead of saying, well the hospice philosophy is not to go to the hospital try saying, ‘You should always try to call us first. Here is our 24/7 contact details. Obviously if there is an emergency you may end up calling 911, and that’s fine, but if you call us first, we can prevent unnecessary hospitalizations.’

This type of response if much more positive than telling them “no, you shouldn’t”.

  • Develop a destressing routine: Take a moment after a call or visit to shake off the difficulty of caring for a hospice patient & their caregiver. Take a 3 minute walk. Sit in your care and close your eyes and count back from 50. Whatever method works, don’t treat destressing as a random as needed event but as an integral part of your daily routine.
  • Provide real world solutions that help: For example, your agency might consider offering subsidized gym/yoga/meditation memberships to your team members. It’s really a small expense for something that study after study shows has a massive impact on quality of life. Both providing the membership and using the gym are outsized in return on investment in increasing your teams base level of positivity.

If your agency incorporates these 5 tips to creating a great experience, you will see happier employees, improved CAHPS scores, and increased word of mouth testimonials.


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