A conversation has been ongoing regarding the need for us to elevate the field of healthcare technology management (HTM) in order to get the respect we deserve. My contribution has typically been that we need to build a relationship, show respect to others on the healthcare team, and participate in solving healthcare problems—and the respect will come. Often I feel like my words have fallen on deaf ears. But I have come to realize that it isn’t a case of people not listening; it’s that I may not be talking to the right people. My audience is usually HTM. Most of those in HTM understand the need to build a relationship with our peers and to treat them with respect. There are a few exceptions, and I wish I could say, “You know who you are!” But unfortunately, you probably don’t and need someone to point it out to you—assuming you would even listen.
I think we may need to approach this from a slightly different angle. We need to switch the focus to our frontline staff. The frontline is where we win or lose our customers. Fortunately, surveys indicate that our customers typically have a high degree of satisfaction with our services. Unfortunately, however, many have no idea who they are satisfied with. Frequently during site audits, I have found that the nurse manager usually, but not always, knows who we were talking about when we asked them if they knew who (insert HTM department name here) was. Often they would answer the question enthusiastically in the positive, then explain that whenever they needed something cleaned up or a light bulb changed, we did a great job. This is backed up by many of the surveys, where the written comments make it clear that they think they are rating another department.
If we want to raise the perception of our value in our customers’ eyes, it starts with improving relationships. The key to improving relationships is actively getting to know the other party. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something that gets in the way of truly getting to know another party: having preconceived notions about who they are. Many HTM professionals have preconceived notions about our customers and peers that aren’t flattering. I’ve mentioned before a t-shirt that an HTM association was selling that had a quote on the front: “I can’t fix stupid.” If you talk to technicians across the country, I promise that you will hear unflattering comments about our customers and peers. Many will share their feelings openly. They don’t see a problem with it. If you don’t see the problem with any of this, see the last two sentences in the first paragraph.
So what do we do about this? Start by examining yourself. Do you have negative perceptions about a coworker, a customer, or another team? Ask yourself why. I once went to an interesting presentation about attitudes. The leader mentioned getting mad because someone cut him off on the highway. He asked the attendees why he was mad, and several people responded that he was mad because the other driver cut him off. He said, “No, I’m mad because I chose to be.” No one can force you to feel a certain way. You can feel positively if you choose to do so. Start with yourself and make sure you are giving others the benefit of the doubt, that you are looking at what is good about them. Then, extend that to those around you. If you hear someone speaking ill of another person or team, don’t go along with the flow and chuckle at their cruel witticisms. Take the other side and talk positively about the subject of their derision.
We focus heavily on the technical side of our business with respect to our frontline staff. If they are lucky, we may talk to them about customer service or send them to a class. But if we are going to create an atmosphere of mutual respect with our customers and peers, it starts by building a foundation. Hire people who aren’t just technically savvy, but actually like other people and want to help them out. Make relationship building an important and consistent topic in your meetings. Then walk the talk. Show them by example what you mean. If your team is out there not only fixing problems but also actively building relationships, you are well on your way to earning the respect you deserve.
Kenneth Maddock is quality director of healthcare technologies at Aramark. He is a member of the BI&T Editorial Board for AAMI and a former member of the AAMI Board of Directors.