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Revisiting the patient experience balancing act: 3 considerations

January 2nd, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

In a Hospital Impact blog post last year, I shared three critical balancing acts to sustaining patient experience performance that focused on leadership, people and culture. When looking at these areas, it's important to recognize that the dynamic and chaotic world we experience in healthcare requires constant movement. Any stagnation only leads us to fall behind.

Our ability to hold the dynamic tension of the healthcare environment allows us to find the greatest opportunities for excellence and improvement in patient experience. Through my experience and through the stories of many others, I can confidently say there is no one right way for us to achieve excellence. In fact, if someone claims they have found it, challenge those assumptions. It is the confidence of finding the right way that ultimately stagnates our ability to improve, grow or learn. That is not and should never be the intent of efforts to improve patient experience in healthcare organizations.

Rather it comes back to a willingness to constantly ask questions, try new things and avoid being lured in by promises of "best practices" or prepackaged solutions. Patient experience improvement is work, unique work that while guided by efforts proven to work in other situations, must still be tested, applied or adapted for your own environment.

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At the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's National Forum, I discovered a second set of balancing acts that reinforce this assertion. IHI's President and CEO Maureen Bisognano, its Co-Founder Don Berwick and a number of the patient and family advisors in attendance, many of who serve on The Beryl Institute's Global Patient & Family Advisory Council, shared three additional balancing acts we face in patient experience improvement:

  1. The balancing of "What's The Matter?" and "What Matters To You?" (Bisognano)
    This simple but powerful statement focuses on expanding perspective. The idea that the care experience is about determining what ails or is a cause of concern for patients is something we would never remove from the conversation. This enables the science of medicine to work. But the balancing perspective is what matters to the patient in the process. We don't offer procedures simply because as caregivers we believe it must happen. We must consider what matters to those in our care as well.
  2. The balancing of "improving care" and "improving wellness" (Berwick)
    This idea about extending the continuum shifts the systemic view of healthcare and expands the experience conversation beyond only care, to overall health. This provides a shifting for healthcare organizations to think forward in terms of a true population health strategy--Not for the sake of policy, but rather for the greater good and wellness of those in their respective communities. There is great power in helping people avoid the need for care, by engaging in a broad range of preventative and proactive efforts. This will become an increasingly important part of the healthcare experience and extends the conversation and the impact we can have.
  3. The balancing of "about or to" and "with"
    This is a fundamental message about reinforcing partnership. We consistently hear from patients and family members who do not wish to be subjects of their experience, but partners in it. Patients and family members are wise enough to know they are not medical experts, but at the same time no one knows their individual situation better then they do. To create partnership as part of the patient experience is a critical point of balancing between doing to and with, and ensuring true engagement in the healthcare process.

The patient experience conversation held in isolation of the patient perspective was a troubling one. With this we must realize each and every one of us may be that patient or family member at the bedside one day, dealing with a tough choice, working through a troubling diagnosis, or celebrating good news or a medical success.

Our ability to thrive and contribute in the healthcare environment today may boil down to our willingness to give up on the “right” answer and know we have great opportunity to be in a balancing act around the critical questions that will impact the experience for all in our care. As we look to the year ahead, I encourage you to be open to the questions that will arise, rather than in search of the one right answer. I urge you to take on the balancing act in providing the best in patient experience for all we serve.

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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