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How to maintain a path to patient experience excellence

September 19th, 2013

by Jason A. Wolf

In recent Hospital Impact posts we have see a continued discussion about how the patient experience family is growing, the movement is progressing and the processes to address this issue are continually under refinement. This idea of "a body in motion stays in motion" (in this case the patient experience movement) is perhaps most pertinent in the exploration of organizational performance.

As I travel and visit with healthcare organizations I am consistently asked what the best are doing: How are they addressing their issues, managing their processes, improving their outcomes?

Perhaps my reply may seem short when I suggest there are truly no best practices but rather proven practices that are shown to have an impact in a certain situational setting, in a particular environment with a specific set of factors. To recreate all these items to have a practice respond the same way is hard to do at best.

I share this not to be discouraging, but to suggest a new way at looking at improvement and performance overall in addressing patient experience.

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My research has revealed that to sustain performance, organizations do not simply fine tune or reinforce these characteristics, they in fact move in and around them. The bottom line being performance in healthcare organizations is not as much about what specific actions you take as it is about how you consistently challenge, review and refocus what it is you are doing.

I was reminded of this in a conversation this week with an Institute community member who is working on determining the performance challenges around patient experience. This individual's organization is well respected, highly regarded, cited, and modeled for its patient experience efforts. I know many others who aspire to achieve what it has, striving to mimic or replicate its efforts.

What I do not see is the recognition of the humble nature with which this organization admits it has much farther to go and how it remains relentless in its unending pursuit of excellence.

I don't want to diminish the power of shared and proven practice, only dilute the myth that these ideas are a panacea to achieving performance nirvana. Rather it is the focus of organizations on a state of continuous improvement that may be the simplest, yet most powerful characteristic of high performance.

So what can organizations do to maintain a path to patient experience and high performance overall? I offer a few suggestions:

  1. Be clear about where you want to go. This is not only an organizational vision and mission, but clarity on your true intention as an organization, what you hope to accomplish and impact as a result of your actions.
  2. Ensure your people at all levels understand not only where you are headed, but what you expect of them in behavior, action and intent in all they do in every moment, every day.
  3. Reinforce your efforts with the right resources, technology and solutions. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your gaps and fill those with what you need to succeed.
  4. Recognize all of this can and should change in a moment's notice if your situation requires it and be willing to move, adapt or reconfigure as needed to continue your efforts to improve.

I have been fortunate to witness many healthcare organizations around the world working on this critical issue and have been asked by many more for the secret keys to success. I do not intend to over simplify the response or discourage action by suggesting there is no one simple checklist to performance success.

Instead, I offer one best practice that can lead to the outcomes you aspire to in healthcare. Simply stated, the best performers never believe they are truly there, with there equating to achieving a state of high performance. (And the corollary--those who tell you they have achieved the best are at risk of becoming complacent, stagnant and in decline.)

Top-performing organizations know this all too well and tackle this reality with energy, commitment and passion rather than frustration or concern. This can only lead to the greatest things for all those impacted by healthcare systems around the world. I encourage you to stay in motion and accept never getting "there," for you are truly on a noble road.

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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