Imagine your child has finished their final academic year and received some good results. They’ll be moving out of home during the holidays to start their independent life (unless of course they later move back home to save money).

You’ve decided to reward their efforts in a practical way and have bought them a clothes dryer – wrapped up in a big, red ribbon. You and the dryer have been strategically placed in the driveway as you await their return. They know you have a gift and arrive with friends wanting to see what it is. The excitement on both sides is high. Just before they arrive a little red sports car turns up, the driver hops out and leaves the car next to the driveway. You probably don’t need to be told what happens next. The car is the only focus, your usually rational child and their crowd go crazy thinking the car is the gift. You are left waiting for the chaos to subside and thinking about the dryer – it’s not really going to cut it. The driver returns to the car, drives the car away and you witness bewilderment and unhappiness play out.

There are plenty of examples in life where expectations don’t align. Why should the doctor – patient relationship be any different? Surgery that corrects a degenerative condition (you are happy) but the pain persists (the patient is not). Elective surgery that doesn’t provide the cosmetic or other outcome the patient expected but you think it’s okay. Medication that brings its own complications or side-effects.

Understanding what a patient expects from a treatment or procedure is a vital part of the professional service you provide. If you don’t have that shared common expectation from the outset, the likelihood of having a shared satisfaction of the outcome is at risk. It should be important to you to ensure there is as little discrepancy as possible between what a patient expects and their actual experience. The challenge is that you are both working from a different “database” of knowledge. Your database comes from your professional knowledge and experience. The patient can be influenced by multi factors, such as what they have read or seen of other people’s experience.

Establishing a shared expectation at the outset involves some essentials:

  • Explore and understand what the patient wants to achieve
  • What are the key issues for this patient?
  • Be realistic, and be clear about what you can and can’t provide
  • Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver
  • Explain each step, especially if you need to consult, refer or transfer
  • Clarify the responsibilities of all parties
  • And revisit those expectations along the way if things change.

Appropriately managing your patient’s expectations is one of your key risk management tools.  If you are interested in taking a deep dive and learning more, consider completing our new Workshop “Aligning expectations – building the relationship”.  The Workshop is being run as part of our Risk Management Conference series and has been receiving excellent feedback.  The Workshop will help you understand your patient’s expectations and align them with your own, build trust, save time and avoid serious complaints. We’d love to see you there. You can quickly and easily book  your place at a Conference online in REO – www.miga.com.au.

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