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Patient experience about much more than smiles

January 22nd, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

In getting to the heart of patient experience efforts--both in exploring proven practices and conducting rigorous research--we find that what many deemed the softer side of healthcare has true evidence-based implications. There is real power in the data that represent the experience of patients and families and the perspective of those providing care.

As patient experience has emerged, taken root and become a strategic focus for so many organizations, the need to take measurement to new levels, beyond satisfaction to actionable and purposeful data, leaves us with one true realization:

Patient experience no longer is simply about smiles or satisfaction, but rather now grounded in personal interactions, foundational culture, strategic direction and consistent execution that all drive healthcare organizations and their outcomes each and every day.


With this realization, the lessons shared have even more significant value and can help any healthcare organization as it considers how to turn the voice of the consumer--the patients, families and communities they serve--into actionable data in support of positive change.

A recent paper by The Beryl Institute, "Voices of Measurement in Improving Patient Experience," raised significant items for consideration, but more so clear, common and simple themes with significant implications for action. Some of the central ideas include:

Match the sample size to your intentions. Be clear on how you intend to use your data and for what reasons as you make measurement decisions. Samples should match commitments.

Don't rely on mandates to represent all you need to (or should) address in your environment While CAHPS surveys provide consistency, clear comparative data and a level playing field, these mandated questions may leave you with limited information on which to act. Consider what else it is you are trying to understand and affect.

Use experience data as a key strategic resource. The use of experience data to shape, support or reinforce broader strategy has begun to delineate those engaging in measurement for the sake of requirement or compliance, versus those focused on strategic progress and overall improvement.

Recognize measurement is not an end in itself, but a means to plan for action and lead change. Measurement must lead to a more significant end. The greater purpose of data is to plan, inspire and provide milestones for improvement and change.

Ensure experience measurement includes all voices. Beyond the desire to understand patient perspectives, there must be intentionality in gathering the perspectives of your people to understand commitment and alignment to purpose. It is through this broader data set that strategic decisions are best made.

Use transparency of data to establish and reinforce accountability. Transparency in measurement, especially in the realm of patient experience, must reach beyond publicly reported scores and tie back to the expected behaviors and actions of caregivers overall.

Expand measurement to understand the full experience continuum. Understanding the overall care continuum, including impact of transitions, provides greater awareness of improvement opportunities.

As we explore the real value of measurement on experience, don't substitute data for the value found in personal interaction. At the end of the day, in healthcare we are fundamentally human beings taking care of human beings. While surveys provide critical points of objective data, the proliferation of surveying also puts us at risk for removing the human elements of communication and understanding.

The gathering of data and the power of human interaction are not mutually exclusive and are both means for gathering information for action and improvement. There is great power in both gathering AND understanding the voices of patients, families and your team. Recognizing this is about much more than smiles, we have a clear starting point for valuable and significant improvement.

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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