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You Don't Say

February 12, 2014

Hey healthcare professionals, do you LOVE scripting? If you’re like most audience members I speak to around the country, your resounding answer is, “NO!” Overwhelmingly, people in healthcare DO NOT like scripting. But experts agree that scripting works. It’s effectiveness has been proven in other industries (think, “It’s my pleasure” of Chick-fil-A) and some research links higher patient satisfaction scores with scripting.

 

However, since you hate it, I won’t even try to convince you. Instead, I want to introduce you to an idea called “unscripting.” Let me explain.

 

A long time ago, I realized that all of us are scripted. Just like most of us have a limited repertoire of foods we eat regularly, we also say pretty much the same things at the same touch points. We have a tendency to favor words, phrases and exclamations that can be called our own. Just ask anyone close to you if there is something you say all the time. Or ask someone to recall your version of, “Hello. How are you?” A great exercise is to ask the people you live with to tell you something you say all the time. You may be surprised!

 

The idea of unscripting came to me one day when I got the dreaded call. The one that starts with, “Are you in charge?” Uh oh. That’s usually not a good sign. The woman’s voice on the other end of the line said, “Are you the director of customer service in the hospital?” When I answered in the affirmative, she said, “Then you need to tell the admitting lady to stop wishing ‘good luck’ to every patient having surgery.” The caller asked me if luck was what was needed to get out of the hospital unscathed. I thought to myself, “How can this be! No one would be that thoughtless at my hospital!”

 

When I spoke with the admitting staff, they realized they all said it to every patient. Understanding the effect of their well-intentioned words, they were heartsick. One kind employee told me that even though she said “good luck,” she silently said a prayer once the patient turned away. Unfortunately, patients never heard the sweet prayers offered on their behalf, only that luck is needed to survive.

 

I knew we could do better, and I worked with the admitting staff to “unscript” their words. Unscripting is thinking about the words we use regularly and asking, “Are these the best words I could use in this situation? How might others perceive what I am saying? What would I like said to me if I were a patient in this situation?”

 

Frontline healthcare professionals make it clear that they are not yet receptive to scripting, no matter how management tries to sell it to them. So maybe we can take the first step and examine our daily scripts. Instead of “good luck,” you may want to hear something like, “We will take great care of you,” “You’re in the best possible hands” or “We’re here for you.” Any of these phrases are better than “good luck.” We need to examine our current scripts and rid organizations of those things we say that are thoughtless and potentially harmful to the patients we intend to heal. Let’s call it an exercise in empathy.