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Commit to patient experience in 2012

January 5th, 2012

by Jason A. Wolf

With another year of rapid change in policy and practice now behind us, healthcare organizations are looking to 2012 with great anticipation. A significant shift is that the concept of patient experience was forever changed in 2011.

The year started as "conceptual," meaning organizations were being measured on patient experience performance based on Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores and results were reported compared to their peers. This comparison generated interest in some leaders and drew on the competitive nature of others. It provided a general feeling of pride and accomplishment to know your organization scored well and created a need for urgent action when it did not.

In this light, it made patient experience an issue of comparative perception--that is, how the market viewed an institution and how it compared to its peers. Some recognized the implications of this situation alone--that market choices were being influenced by scores and prevailing reputation. This idea--the "return on service," as discussed in my previous blog--will continue to have serious and growing implications on the overall operations of healthcare organizations.

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This conceptual focus faced a significant change halfway through 2011, with a hard turn to the "practical." This generated an almost frantic increase in activity and raised the profile of the patient experience to new levels. On July 1, value-based purchasing arrived. A real and measurable performance period began that would not simply compare healthcare organizations across markets, but also would impact the actual reimbursement dollars institutions would receive across a much broader spectrum. As one CNO said to me last July, "Spring training is over and the regular season is on!"

How does this fit into your resolutions for 2012? Last year, I wrote about the origins of New Years, Janus (a mythical king of early Rome) and the opportunity we have each year to focus on patient experience resolutions. The symbolism of Janus is even more significant this year now that patient experience has taken the hard turn to the "practical." With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and forward to the future. This is exactly what we must continue to do in this new era of value-based purchasing. Three months remain in the performance period (July 1, 2001 - March 31, 2012) that will impact every institution's bottom line. Three months in which important patient experience efforts should be continued, or if need be, started to ensure you are not only providing the best care experience possible, but also setting yourself up for the greatest reimbursement.

So what can you be doing? I have previously offered numerous considerations, from four key organizational strategies to the importance of personal interactions. You also could explore the top three tactical priorities outlined in The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals benchmarking study that healthcare organizations identified as important to consider, including a focus on noise reduction, a clear and replicable discharge process, and a consistent and intentional rounding program at all levels of your organization.

The key is this: In the year ahead patient experience will be as critical, if not more so, than before, and like Janus symbolized, it will be important to look back as you plan ahead. You also must ensure patient experience is integrated into strategy, while balanced as a key tactical effort that drives at the heart of your quality, safety and overall care delivery experience. In the end, most importantly, do not simply be led to your goals based one expert's ideas or someone's specific model. Find the strategies and tactics that best fit your organization, your community, your people and your patients. It is there you will find the most fulfilling resolutions for the year to come and will realize the greatest results.

So what are your 2012 patient experience resolutions? We all can and should learn from one another in the year ahead.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is executive director of The Beryl Institute, the premier thoughtleader on improving the patient experience. He is a recognized expert on organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare.

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