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Why we need patient experience leaders in healthcare

March 8th, 2012

by Jason A. Wolf

I recently asked a healthcare executive what he thought about the primary ownership of patient experience in relation to his organization's strategic priorities, and he stated with conviction that patient experience is everyone's responsibility. While I agree everyone plays a role in patient experience success, someone needs to drive its strategy, understand its nuances and guide an organization's effort. In the same vein, while it could be said leadership is a collective effort, I do think that same executive would agree that leadership is ultimately an individual accountability.

In a recent blog post with Hospital Impact, I reinforced the need to have commitment from highest levels of leadership. Yet, more importantly I suggested the need for a focused role to lead patient experience efforts. I return to this point to reiterate the study shared in the paper, The Four Cornerstones of an Exceptional Patient Experience that showed a dedicated role with definitive time to commit to the patient experience tended to lead to better outcomes in both HCAHPS and internal patient satisfaction surveys.

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The distinction here, as I suggest above, is that a leader is a differentiator. As important in leading any function or service line in the healthcare setting, is someone to drive the patient experience agenda, not as a task among many, but as an intentional and singular focus. In my visits with healthcare organizations I have found where there is a leader, there is clear focus, defined strategy and expanded levels of commitment. Patient experience leaders are not a "nice to have," but a "must have" in today's healthcare setting.

With that, if there is a commitment to having dedicated leaders, there should be an equal commitment to ensuring these leaders have the knowledge and skills to effectively execute in their roles. To that end, a group of volunteer healthcare professionals, supported by The Beryl Institute, worked to frame a Patient Experience Body of Knowledge, defining 14 domains of knowledge key to patient experience leaders. Input was gathered from more than 100 healthcare leaders from four countries in shaping the model. Domains cover a range of topics from understanding the history of service excellence and patient experience in healthcare, to core management skills, to the key processes and tools available to leaders in improving patient experience.

As equally important to the framework itself is that it reflects the voices of all those that touch healthcare around the globe, including patients, families, community members, caregivers and healthcare leaders alike. To this end, a global open comment period was launched this week to gather additional feedback and expand the dialogue on the critical importance of patient experience AND the leaders who are accountable for its success. I encourage you to share your voice in the process.

I know some will argue that a leader alone does not drive outcomes; with that I will not argue but rather ask if you leave it up to everyone, how will it get done? The patient experience has garnered a lot of attention of late due to new measurements and policies being implemented in countries around the world. These changes have real business implications for the healthcare system as a whole. But at the end of the day, patient experience is about more than that. It is about our patients and their support networks, the communities we serve, the caregivers that bring passion to this work every day. It is not the nice thing to do; it is the right thing to do.

And how do we do it? I challenge you to engage your organization in ensuring you have a committed role to lead your patient experience effort. It is a worthwhile and important investment. I also encourage you to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on patient experience leadership. We all have a role to play. In the end this is about one thing, ensuring the highest quality service experiences possible. We owe it to our patients and ourselves.

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. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.

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