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A call to action in improving patient experience

March 27th, 2013

by Jason A. Wolf

As I look at data from recent research and hear first-hand the challenges faced by many healthcare organizations, I have discovered that with all the talk about improving patient experience, there is still a gap in action on many fronts.

I share this not to diminish the incredibly thoughtful and comprehensive efforts taking place or the positive impact organizations are having daily. Rather, my hope is to challenge those on the edges of this issue looking in.

There is no time to wait--the time for action is now.

The opportunity for action is evident in recent research on actions pertaining to the patient experience. For example, in our recent study, The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals, while healthcare leaders identified patient experience as a top priority, only 58 percent of all healthcare organizations reported having a formal mandate to address patient experience.


To raise our caution further, another study from The Beryl Institute released this month--Voices of the Future, Student Perspectives on Patient Experience--asked students in various healthcare fields about the focus on patient experience in their learning.

The numbers again cause us to take pause in terms of where we truly believe our priorities to be. More than 90 percent of all respondents acknowledged understanding patient experience is at least moderately important; yet 56 percent said patient experience came up in their classroom discussion seldom or never. In fact, almost 20 percent said it was never a topic of conversation.

I make these points to challenge all of us in the healthcare community and to raise the stakes on the opportunity we have created for ourselves. There is a consistent recognition that patient experience is central to all we do; yet our efforts may not match our words.

So what are we to do?

This is a call to action that I think we all must heed. Great efforts are underway across facilities, practices and systems; we must support and sustain that focus. In moving to success I offer a few considerations taken from organizations that are moving to a state of sustained, positive action:

  1. Definition. Organizations must define what the patient experience is and will be in every encounter. Without definition there is no basis for action. What are the keys to your definition of patient experience and how will you enact them every day?
  2. Expectations. It is through its people that an organization ultimately delivers on its promises. What are the expectations you place on first attracting and retaining the right people and then on the behaviors they exemplify in every encounter, every day? Expectations and the willingness to follow-through on their application is what breeds and feeds a culture of accountability.
  3. Transparency. How brave are you prepared to be, first in your willingness to communicate with your own people on where you are succeeding and falling short, and then with your patients, families and communities to underline your commitment to excellence? Transparency should not be left to government mandates; it should be a bold and brave effort at continuous and active improvement.
  4. Agility. Healthcare has been built on hierarchy, process and protocol. This is not bad, as it has ensured quality and consistency in care. Yet we cannot let these structures make us inflexible. They should not translate into our organizational endeavors, and in particular our interpersonal encounters. The current state of healthcare requires us to flex, bend and yes "change with consistency" as well to ensure the best in experience.
  5. Follow-through. This is action in its ultimate form ... how willing we are to do what we say, not just once, but every time, with every individual, in every situation we may encounter. It is only in our follow-through that action is realized and it never truly ends.

Significant efforts have been made to move the conversation on patient experience forward. It has been a profound and broad effort by many to ensure it has happened. My thoughts here are meant to stir us from what might be seen as the complacency found in declaring some thing or idea important. The opportunity revealed is that of action--and in taking on that challenge only great things can happen.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is president 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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