At times, professionals in medical laboratories may feel distant from patient care, interacting more with instruments, swabs and tubes than with actual patients. Yet, every part of the physician's office, including the clinical lab, can play an important role in a positive patient experience.
Clinical laboratories are a crucial part of the healthcare experience because they provide essential information for patient care.
When lab work and lab services are performed in a way that prioritizes patient services or when clinical lab professional training includes a focus on patient experience, the lab can be more than just an auxiliary area of the physician's office. It can be a valuable, operative piece of the positive experience for patients and their families.
Consider the following five actions a clinical lab can pursue to make a difference for patients:
1. Friendly, empathetic service during specimen collection. Collecting specimens is often the only opportunity lab professionals have to interact directly with patients. While it may be easier to keep that brief interaction impersonal, lab workers who approach patients with friendliness, kindness and empathy can contribute significantly to a positive experience.
For many patients, it can be unnerving to have blood drawn or have specimens taken. A lab professional who can calmly put the patient at ease may help significantly improve that patient's experience at the doctor's office.
Work to build a culture among lab professionals that value individuals and train lab workers to help make the patients' five minutes with them the best five minutes of their visit.
2. Clear and helpful signage in all the languages spoken by the patient population. In some cases, lab professionals may not even get a chance to interact with patients directly, as patients may submit their specimens privately. When that happens, well-marked signage may be the only patient interaction with the lab.
And for patients who speak other languages, clear signage that is easy to understand can help create a smooth experience with the lab.
3. Clear and detailed information about how and when patients can access lab results. Waiting for lab test results can be stressful, especially when patients don't know what to expect. Medical laboratories can help ease the stress and improve the patient experience by providing clear, detailed information about accessing lab results and their availability dates.
Consider making this information available on paper as well as digitally to ensure that all patients are well informed.
4. Staff that interacts in a professional and ethical manner. Even if the clinical lab seems detached from patient interactions elsewhere in the medical office, lab staff must always conduct themselves professionally and ethically.
That means abiding by patient confidentiality rules and avoiding making insensitive or inappropriate workplace comments. If a patient overhears a hurtful comment, any previous positive experience may be ruined.
5. Ongoing improvement as a result of patient surveys. It's impossible to know what patients are thinking without asking them. Conduct regular surveys to continually improve your clinical lab and patients' experience with it.
A chapter of the book Healthcare Access discusses how patient satisfaction with lab services contributes to health and quality improvement. The chapter also includes a sample survey for patients to complete about their experience with the clinical lab and questions dealing with:
- Lab staff friendliness
- Availability of requested lab results
- Maintaining privacy and confidentiality. 1
Could your lab use a similar template? Or can you create your own? Review patients' responses and make changes as needed to continually improve your lab and patient experience.
Medical laboratories can be more than just auxiliary areas of the doctor's office. With the proper focus, training and procedures, the clinical lab can be essential to establishing and reinforcing a positive experience for patients throughout their visit.