Picture yourself arriving at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui. The sun is dipping beneath a flaming horizon as you hand the valet your car keys and step into plush hotel lobby framed by a majestic turquoise sea. As you stroll across a terracotta tile floor towards the reception area you can’t help but feel invigorated by the sights, scents, and sounds of this luxurious tropical paradise.
At the reception desk the manager is lost in conversation with a co-worker. Both whisper back and forth in hushed tones without acknowledging your arrival. After clearing your throat – for a third time, the visibly annoyed manager finally looks in your direction. With a practiced smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, he ambles over in your direction and manages a: “Yeah? Can I help you with something buddy?”
Is this the type of reception you expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Of course not. At an accommodation of this caliber you expect to be lavished upon from head to toe. Instead, your expectations have been shattered and you will probably think twice about ever booking at this property again*.
“To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect” ― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Webster’s dictionary defines an expectation as “the act or state of expecting or looking forward to an event as about to happen.” 1 We have expectations associated to almost everything we do. When we sit in a chair we expect it to stay in one piece. When we drive down the street we expect to get from point A to point B without bumping into a bunch of tripod-shaped robots that have suddenly sprung-up from the ground. And if we jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon we can reasonably be sure that we will not make it to tomorrow’s luncheon meeting.
Medical travelers also have expectations about your organization. In fact, at this very moment your prospects and patients are forming a mental picture of their trip to your hospital or clinic and will have at least some expectations based on the information you have provided, interactions they have had with your staff and their assumptions about the process based on what they’ve seen or heard from others or the media. Granted, they may not be expecting a Four Seasons Resort, but they are expecting to be treated with respect, empathy, and cultural sensibility. All these qualities should be reflected at each stage of the Medical Travel Care Continuum – from your website, to the call center representative, to the email correspondence they receive, to their pick-up at the airport, the hotel, during treatment and even once they return home.
What did you say?
Expectation management begins and ends with good communication. In medical travel, clear and frequent communication is especially important due to the many touch points that must be managed both inside and outside the healthcare environment. Is the hotel staff aware of the specific needs of the patient? Has the patient been informed of all relevant details regarding his trip and treatment? Was the patient aware that she should stop taking aspirin a week before surgery? If a patient is anticipating no language barriers but ends up using pantomime and Google Translate to communicate with his/her nurses after surgery, you can be sure he/she will have no problem communicating his/her experience to the world through Twitter or Facebook. It is critical then that we make an effort to understand what is important to medical travelers and what their expectations are regarding their treatment and medical trip. Ask relevant questions such as, “What do you think of the plan we have discussed today? Is this what you thought would happen?”
Without a doubt, a patient’s chief concern will be regarding their treatment and treatment outcome. Ensuring that patients understand the reasons for your proposed management of their condition and what to expect from any treatment will go a long way towards allaying their worries or anxieties. For physicians, it is particularly important to ask questions such as, “Is there anything that you do not understand; have I explained everything clearly?” If required, the presence of interpreters or multilingual staff is vital to ensure compliance and avoid misunderstandings. Finally, don’t let patients assume anything as assumptions often lead to discontent and frustration when others do not share the same understanding of the Medical Travel Care Continuum that you do.
Why is managing patient expectations important?
Understanding and managing patients’ expectations will pave the way for a higher quality medical travel experience. If we are attentive to medical travelers’ values and expressed needs – throughout the medical travel care continuum – our patients will be grateful. They will sense we have a better understanding of their circumstances (be it a hotel or healthcare facility) because our responses are aligned with their expectations. Moreover, by engaging in effective communication, we are promoting improved outcomes, mitigating risk, and ensuring better educated and equipped patients.2 Also, keep in mind that the way patients view your organization greatly affects whether they will return or recommend others, impacting your bottom line. Ultimately your goal should be to exceed patients’ expectations by delivering more than you promised: improved outcomes, better services and more compassion and kindness.