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Patient experience is not just the latest fad

May 22nd, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

I remain steadfast in my belief that patient experience and all it encompasses is not a passing fad, but rather much the opposite. While some still see patient experience as just another strategic initiative to address, I see many more healthcare leaders acknowledging it as the foundation of our work toward a person-centered environment focused on quality, safety and service. There is also great focus and attention on where this movement is going.

In a recent webinar, a group of leading thinkers and practitioners--including Wendy Leebov, partner at Language of Caring; Tony Padilla, chief patient experience officer of UCLA Health; Carol Santalucia, vice president of CHAMPS Patient Experience; and Paul Westbrook, vice president of patient experience at Inova Health System--joined me on a panel to explore the future of patient experience.

We discussed a wide range of issues, revealing significant themes worth exploring as we consider what lies ahead.

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We grounded the discussion on the assertion that patient experience is an emerging field of practice. A field requires a combination of factors to ensure it takes root and grows. The first is establishing a community gathering space, an example of which is seen in a number of organizations that continue to support the dialogue on experience, as I shared in an earlier blog.

The second component is a core and community-developed body of knowledge, which identifies the key skills and knowledge central to understanding patient experience. The third component is an expanding research base, as exemplified by the open-access Patient Experience Journal and other outlets for rigorous, academic work that push the boundaries of thinking on the subject.

Finally, there is professional certification and academic programming focused on developing future patient experience champions. All these efforts support the ongoing patient experience movement.

Here are four critical suggestions from panelists that can help us start moving our patient experience efforts forward:

  • Reignite the passion and purpose of healthcare employees. Santalucia stressed the importance of remembering why we chose this work in any role we play in healthcare across the continuum. This reminds us that in healthcare we are human beings caring for human beings, and that must be the foundation on which we build any experience effort.
  • Set and reinforce clear expectations. Westbrook pointed out that our primary means of delivering experience is from one person to another. To do this successfully, we must set clear expectations with people at all levels. It's critical people know what the "right" thing looks like, and encourage those behaviors through acknowledgement and recognition.
  • Perfect methodologies for engaging patient voice. Padilla expanded the conversation on expectations by reminding us at the end of the day the patient experience is the patient's. We must listen and gather expectations from patients more effectively and with greater capacity. Patient voice should guide us and direct us in our efforts.
  • Shift our attention from the "what" to the "how." Leebov suggested for all the "whats" we hope to do in patient experience improvement, it ultimately comes down to "how" we do them. I shared this same thought in a recent Hospital Impact blog post on my own family experience--while I saw many tactics put in place to address experience, "it was the 'how' of our care--how our experience, service, quality and safety were handled (that) made the impression on us."

Patient experience is not a complicated affair. It's truly about clarifying our intention, acting with focus and commitment, and making the right choices in every moment to engage patients, family members and our peers with dignity, respect, care and compassion. There are great opportunities and significant possibilities ahead for the patient experience improvement. Each of us can, and should, play a role in the movement. I'm sure it's what we would want for our loved ones and ourselves.

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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