ATD Blog

How Personality Drives the Patient Experience

Monday, December 11, 2017

There are some people you really like being around; there are some stores where you really like to shop. On the flip side, you don’t care to be around some people; there are stores you don’t care to patronize. It’s an odd comparison at first glance—businesses are things; people are humans. However, both have something very much in common: Each has a personality.
A business’s personality is exemplified by how it makes you feel when you’re there. Think about stores or restaurants where you like to go. What makes those stand out from others? It’s likely their personality.

If your business underwent a personality test, what would it reveal? In healthcare, hospitals have a personality test. It’s called HCAHPS (the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), which is the federal government’s tool to measure the patient’s perception of a hospital stay. After discharge, eligible patients receive the HCAHPS survey, which covers a myriad of domains from communication to staff behavior. The federal government tracks the scores, and bases the hospital’s reimbursement on the results. HCAHPS aside, all patients and family members judge your hospital’s personality every time they walk through the door, whether it’s for a procedure or inpatient stay.

Can someone change their personality, or is it hardwired? Research suggests that human beings can adjust. My suggestion is that hospitals can adjust their personalities, as well, by enhancing their cultures. Change won’t happen overnight, or even over a couple of months. However, it is possible.

What is “culture?” The most applicable definition for our purpose is “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group,” according to Behaviors and beliefs are the crux of culture.

If you want to see culture in action, take a step back and observe. Pretend you are a sociologist studying your hospital. Try to remove bias from your observation. You’re observing your culture, so try to view it from the eyes of a patient. As a patient, you don’t know the people caring for you, nor are you aware of hospital politics. What do you see? Look at interaction between staff. Are people working together, or do you sense dysfunction within the group? Switch your attention to interaction between staff and patients and see what you discover.

Your patients and their family members experience your hospital’s culture, and take note of what they see, hear, and intuitively sense. It comes down to how you make them feel while they are there. How well do staff work together to care for patients? How well did the nurse explain medications and possible side effects? Patients and family members take note of every staff interaction. If a nurse communicates well and is attentive on Tuesday, but is dismissive on Thursday, guess which encounter the patient will remember. My money is on Thursday. Your hospital is under a microscope daily as patients examine your culture.


Culture change is difficult because you must first modify beliefs to affect behavior. No one changes their beliefs or attitude on a whim. Everyone must see the need and make a conscious decision to change.

Recasting your culture requires a strong emotional connection with staff. To create change, the culture message must catch fire. It must burn through the hospital and engulf the entire team, from the C-suite to frontline staff members. There isn’t a quick fix. A steady, persistent message is necessary to change beliefs and behavior.

At Floyd Medical Center, our talent development team is making a significant contribution to our culture through a program called Culture Conversations. It’s something we developed with senior leadership, and have nurtured for more than a year. It has taken some imagination and initiative—our system includes two hospitals, a primary care network, hospice, and behavioral health. Plus, while many employees work directly with patients, a significant number do not. Your message must resonate with every employee group.


We began Culture Conversations with a strong rollout, and work hard to keep the program dynamic while remaining consistent with our message. Our frontline leaders have embraced the program and have spread the excitement to their staff. Leaders have taken the program to amazing heights. Through them, the message is resonating around the health system. Change is happening.

Talent development professionals can play an important role in stoking and maintaining the culture fire. First and foremost, senior leadership must define the vision and support the effort. We can deliver the message. Talent development professionals are in a unique position because we touch everyone across the organization through the projects and courses we offer. New employee orientation, leadership development, compliance training—the whole gamut of things we touch plays a role in changing and maintaining an enhanced culture.

Be a sociologist for a day and study the personality of your employer. What will you find?

Want to learn more? Join me January 8th for the webcast 4 Keys to Enhancing Your Healthcare Culture.

About the Author

Denise Hicken is a senior learning consultant with Floyd Medical Center in Georgia. Her career has served her well in this role, allowing her to expand her contributions to the organization. Denise holds a Journalism degree and a master’s in education from the University of Missouri. She earned her CPTD in 2017 and is currently working toward a certification in project management.

Denise has worked in the news industry, banking, and now in healthcare. Her career path has given her a unique insight into the business of healthcare. However, her passion is enhancing culture in the workplace through leadership development. She leads an initiative titled “Culture Conversations” which provides leaders with tools and guidance to hold monthly conversations with their teams on topics which focus on enhancing culture. This initiative was nominated for best “People Focused Initiative” at Floyd in 2018.

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Denise Hicken, your article was very explicit and very stimulating.
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