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Humanity: The heart of patient experience success

December 19th, 2012

by Jason A. Wolf

As I look back at all that was written and shared during this past year on patient experience, not only in my previous blog posts, but in the words shared by so many--patient experience leaders, caregivers, hospital administrators, physicians, patients and family members--I was moved to find compelling, powerful and even emotional themes.

As readers, you were drawn to the stories shared about the experiences people had and it brought home an important point. As much as we in healthcare strive to provide the best patient and family experience, enact effective strategies and tactics, and implement the required policies, we must remember we are patients and family members ourselves.

In the talks I share and in visits to healthcare organizations, I witness what I believe rests at the core of the healthcare experience--we are human beings taking care of human beings.

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It may get no simpler, yet no more complex than that. As human beings we have our own unique set of needs and desires, we come with expectations and previous perspectives, we bring anticipation and even fear. And it is each and every one of these variables and more that make the work we do at all points of the healthcare continuum so critical and so challenging.

But for most of the people I have met that chose healthcare not only as a profession, but also as a calling, this is the very challenge they signed on for.

I believe we all fundamentally know what is right when it comes to providing care. We recognize there are clear choices to make and these choices are probably far less difficult then we make them out to be.

I say this not to diminish the critical strategic nature patient experience plays in overall healthcare outcomes and even the financial viability of healthcare organizations, or to downplay the core tactics that help ensure our patients feel attended to and cared for. These are still central to how patient experience makes a contribution to healthcare overall. But perhaps, as I return to what I discovered in my review of the year, we also must recognize the fundamental needs the patient experience itself reveals.

In reading great pieces on Hospital Impact from my colleagues, such as Thomas Dahlborg, Doug Della Pietra, Anthony Cirillo and Jenn Riggle, as just a few examples, what moved us and our conversation as a community of leaders was not only suggestions of practice. It was the compelling stories of experience through the eyes of a friend, a loved one and even our own that sparked our greatest energy and engagement.

What I saw in many of those stories moved beyond a discussion of action steps or policy to true moments of interaction and the perceptions they revealed. This is where the power of positive patient experience makes itself known.

I often mention The Beryl Institute's definition of patient experience as a guiding framework for how we can acknowledge and address patient experience: the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.

What we find beneath the surface of these words is that personal interactions, organization culture and perceptions themselves occur not only in tactical ways, but also at an emotional level. If we try to over-systematize the experience process we may lose this most important element.

The themes I found in looking at this year reveal words that speak to that very humanness at our core in healthcare--empathy and compassion, caring and communication, commitment and hope, and yes even love. In remembering that these words matter could very well be where we can make the greatest difference in providing the best in patient experience for all!

As we experience the holiday season and look to the New Year with fresh eyes and joyful hearts, perhaps it is these same feelings that should frame the foundation of all we can do in service to patients, their families and to one another in healthcare. In recognizing our humanity, what touches us, scares us, and inspires us, we will without question make the right choices and ensure that our work in the year gone by and our hopes for the year ahead will only lead to the best for our patients.

Happy Holidays and may the New Year lead us to even greater experiences for all.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is executive director of The Beryl Institute, where he specializes in organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.

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