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The patient experience family is growing--and it should

August 21st, 2013

by Jason A. Wolf

I remain inspired by what I shared in a blog post earlier this year, that there is a clear and growing movement for patient experience improvement. While I have been fortunate to be an active participant in what I deem a noble endeavor, it is important that we are mindful of the opportunities and pitfalls that come along with this type of systemic change.

Simply stated, and perhaps related to the recent adventure of becoming a new father, my metaphor here is that our patient experience family is growing and that says great things about the future of the movement.

The latest research on the state of patient experience revealed some very telling trends. In asking patient experience leaders what they saw as the key drivers and roadblocks to success, a clear message emerged. While healthcare organizations see experience as a top priority there are still issues to be resolved. Much of this remains in the domain of leadership at all organizational levels. The data show and the trends support the idea that a movement is afoot.

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A top challenge in 2011, cultural resistance to change still remains a key issue. It is joined by two items that show while leaders recognize the importance of patient experience the associated actions still need to catch up. The top two roadblocks include those assigned the patient experience leader role are pulled in too many directions and patient experience efforts are diluted by other organizational priorities.

From this, it is clear organizations are still struggling with how to best address patient experience issue. What started as an issue about organizational change two years ago has shifted to an issue of focus. I would suggest this is a positive trend as it shows organizations’ efforts are maturing and now are experiencing the challenges of that progress.

The drivers also support this trend, with clear support "from the top" remaining the number one driver for patient experience success. From all I have seen, a serious commitment is needed to effectively drive patient experience efforts forward. These actions are not (nor should they be) simple checklists and the outcomes often require a broader understanding of the impact these efforts have. This requires a visionary, creative and agile leader who sees the bigger picture, understands the real value and is willing to invest in what she or he knows is right.

The second significant change in drivers is the addition of the formal patient experience structure or role to drive efforts forward. This increase in recognition that experience requires clear, defined leadership is a significant statement. Yet it remains something many organizations are still struggling to figure out.

Moving beyond organizational efforts, it has been exciting to watch the family of organizations addressing the patient experience issue expand as well.

Some great examples are independent efforts like the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's expanded patient experience learning and Planetree's and the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care's focus on patient-centeredness, as well as efforts such as the AHA-affiliated Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy and the Cleveland Clinic-affiliated Association for Patient Experience.

The list is expanding even further as vendors and resource providers are raising the issue of patient experience, providing supporting information and materials, and reinforcing their role in patient experience improvement.

As one committed to this cause, my hope and unwavering intent is to work every day to create a global community and gathering place at The Beryl Institute where all these ideas can be fostered and shared. With that as motivation, the trends I shared are extremely encouraging. Patient experience is growing, the family is expanding, the priority is solidifying and all of this is good.

I often open and close my talks with the simple fact that patient experience improvement is first and foremost about choice. The choice now is to move forward, engage our patients, our families, our teams and associates and our community. While the climb may not always be easy, this is a journey that will reap great rewards for all. To get there, like family, we must all do it together.

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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