by Michael Hoffman
Mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent leaves the Daily Planet building after a hard day’s work. On the roof of the building, Lois Lane, action reporter, takes off in the company helicopter on her way to a late breaking-news story. Suddenly, one of the helicopter’s landing railings catches under a cable. The helicopter spins out of control, crashes back to the roof, and hangs perilously over the edge. Instinctively, Lois shrieks for help as she unclasps her seatbelt and attempts to scramble out the opposite door to safety. But when she flings it open, the movement jars the helicopter, and Lois slips. As she tumbles out into the air, she grasps her seat belt buckle and is left dangling 100 stories above the ground.
Clark, acutely aware that a crowd is gathering on the streets outside the Daily Planet, looks up to see the drama unfolding above him. Stepping down the backstreet, he enters a revolving door and, at blinding speed, emerges transformed to Superman, the “Man of Steel.”
Meanwhile, Lois loses her tenuous grip on the belt buckle and with a horrified scream, plummets toward certain death. Superman, soaring to meet the damsel in distress, swoops under and gently catches her, bringing her to a stop in midair. “Steady, miss, I’ve got you,” he soothes.
Stunned, Lois clings to his neck and exclaims, “You got me? Who’s got you?!”
Smiling rakishly, Superman whisks her upward toward the safety of the roof.
But before Lois can relax in Superman’s solid arms, a bellow erupts from the crowd below. The helicopter has broken free from the cable and is now hurtling toward them!
With superhero swiftness, Superman reassesses the situation. In the nick of time, he seizes the railing of the helicopter and carries Lois and the helicopter to a secure landing on the roof.
Awestruck, Lois gazes up at the amazing being before her and squeaks a simple, “Thank you.”
In response, Superman simply smiles that smile that says, “It’s all in today’s work,” turns toward the heavens, and flies off to the next crisis requiring his attention.[SC1]
Wow! How many times have you had a day like this as a caregiver? A patient “screams” for help, you fly to the rescue, and just when you think you’ve averted the crisis, you see the falling helicopter. Superman expects to face problems of life and death proportions every day. It’s part of his job description as a superhero. And so it is for the superheroes of the patient experience. You expect to face problems of life and death proportions every day. Problems that, if not handled properly, can be death for the hospital’s reputation, relationship with the patient or the patient themselves! It’s part of your job description. Or, as Superman says, “It’s all in a day’s work.”
There is a quote from trainer extraordinaire Tom Hopkins that I live by: “It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s how you handled the problem that’s the problem.” How do you handle the problems you face daily as a caregiver? As a superhero of the patient experience, do you use the superpowers that are available to you every day? Or, up until now, have you operated as a mere mortal, assuming that to possess positively outrageous super skills, you had to be born with them?
How many of you have been to the birthing of a child? Technically, all of us, yes, but I mean where you witnessed the actual birth? How many times has the doctor turned to the parents and said, “Congratulations, you have an effective caregiver?” Never, because positively outrageous patient experience skills are developed, not inborn. The way I like to put it is that positively outrageous patient service is a skill set, not a trait. You can develop the patient experience skills that will transform you from mild-mannered Clark Kent into Super Patient Experience Person in every patient service crisis you face.
Let me give you an example. Superman can fly. He can leap tall buildings. He can see through walls. He can hear microsounds at macro distances. He has the strength of, well, a superhero. But how effective would all his superpowers be if Superman were vulnerable himself? If the enemy could take him out with a bullet or a flame ball or a laser ray? And how effective can you be as a caregiver if a frustrated patient can take you down with fiery darts of rage or pain?
Like Superman, you have to be bulletproof. When you’re bulletproof, you’re taken out of harm’s way. You’re separated from the emotion of the situation and you can drive more effectively toward a solution. You become impregnable to personal attacks.
To be bulletproof is to take on an attitude of separating your ego from the situation, because you realize that the angriest assault is not about you. The patient is furious at the situation or in pain, and you represent those things to him. To be bulletproof stems from the approach of “I am the solution: he just doesn’t know it yet.” You are there to serve, and the first step is the ventilation of the patient’s emotions and you not taking it personally. In fact, the faster your patient gets the emotions out, the faster you can move on to solution.
The next time a patient attacks, duck to the nearest phone booth and don your suit of steel, your attitude of disassociation. Then you can tell the patient, “Go ahead, and be angry. Yell it out. I’m not going to let it hurt me. I’m bulletproof, baby! Bring it on!”
My brother-in-law is a firefighter and paramedic. To meet him, you’d think the man couldn’t have a serious bone in his body. He’s fun. He’s got a crazy, off-the-wall personality, and he seems to live on the emotion of the moment. But when an emergency strikes, John becomes a true superhero. He throws on his emotional armor and becomes a man of steel. Though there is chaos around him, he’s not affected by the turmoil. He’s calm, loving, patient. Nothing can penetrate his steely exterior; he is able to remain in solution mode.
It’s important to realize that when you don your steely armor, you become indifferent to the turmoil, but you do not become indifferent to the person in turmoil. What kind of an emergency technician would my brother-in-law be if he were indifferent to the needs of the individual he was supposed to be serving? When you put on the superman persona, you become a person who cares for others. When you care for others, you give them a lot of slack. You allow them their emotions, their frantic ravings, their illogic, letting them bounce off your chest without penetration. You are there to care for and protect your patients no matter what they say or how they act. You are “for them,” not against them.
The minute you take things personally, you shift into defensive mode, and you are no longer “for them.” Once you’re bulletproof, however, and able to focus on the needs of the patient without concern for yourself, you can tap into all the other superpowers you possess to rescue your patients in their time of need—super hearing to not only hear the words but to understand the emotion behind them and X-ray vision to see a positively outrageous solution that would not be obvious without it.
You are their superhero! And most of the time, it will go unsung. Like Superman. How many of your constituents do you see being superheroes every day? How many do you see that you wish were acting more on purpose in those times of need? We are called now more than ever to own the patient experience and do and say the things that make their choice to use us be a positively outrageous YES!
And when, in the end, you’re able to save the day, I want you to stand up from your desk, put your shoulders back, and fill your chest with pride. As your hand’s sweep across your hips, shout with bravado for all to hear, “I am Patient Experience Man!
It’s not that you need to be more like superheroes. It’s that you are superheroes. Doing it every day, on purpose, as a skill set. It’s just ALL IN A DAY’S WORK.
Biography: Michael Hoffman is co-founder of Positively Outrageous Service Inc., a Texas-based company that helps hospitals and organizations ignite and equip Positively Outrageous Service cultures. He has been an award-winning world-class keynote speaker and trainer for the last 25 years, transforming his clients to own that WOW experience that people can’t wait to tell others about. He is the co-author of Positively Outrageous Service (Third Edition). He, his wife, and family live in Carrollton, Texas.