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The secret to patient experience success

June 25th, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

People often ask me where to begin a patient experience effort, the steps to take or what efforts to prioritize on the path to success. People also ask the "secret" to patient experience success. My answer is clear: you already know where to begin and you already know the secret.

One of the greatest opportunities I have in my work at The Beryl Institute is to spend time on the road with people on the front lines of care. These are people at the bedside in hospitals or pediatric facilities, clinics and physician practices and now even long-term care settings. I learn from resource providers bringing innovations to market and, most importantly, hear from patients and families who share the impact of the teams caring for their needs.

One thing these experiences reinforce is the wonderfully unique perspective each of us engaging in healthcare brings. It is this uniqueness in conjunction with a powerful sense of our collective humanity that offers some insight into the opportunities we have to provide the best in patient experience.

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I offer a set of central ideas: that there exists an experience centrality of needs at its core we must know what it is patients, families, colleagues and communities served need and expect. The primary and most powerful resource for experience performance is the very human beings engaging in care teams experience--the totality of quality, safety and service--is created primarily at the point of interaction between one human being and another. So on what is the centrality of needs built and how does this move us towards patient experience success?

First, experience is a systemic effort. It cannot be done in isolation, but rather is a comprehensive and integrated effort built on broad input and engagement. This input represents voices from leadership to the front lines of care, patients and residents, families and loved ones and includes the broader community. You build experience not for, but with, and each interaction you have is and will remain unique.

Second, experience is designed to fit your organization and the people in your care. No one provider, no one vendor, no one organization holds the ultimate answer to the experience riddle. The greatest successes I see are those organizations willing to pull from the best of all they can, across all the information available, to meet their unique needs. In proceeding, choose partners and resources that value and integrate your own organizational identity in any plan. That will take you the farthest down the path to experience success.

The patient experience centrality of needs provides a visual layering of efforts to consider, from an inner ring of interactions, subsequently to process and then services. It is through this layered approach where you can build an effective experience effort. I have seen the greatest potential for impact at the core in mastering interactions but acknowledge you must start where you are comfortable, where you are willing to commit. The areas of focus include:

  1. Personal interactions - Commit to engaging with all human beings in the care experience, from patient and family, to providers of care and community. Personal interactions are both the most basic and most powerful tool in experience improvement. This is also where the foundation of clinical excellence is established.
  2. Operational processes - Focus on delivering excellence in user experience. Ask yourself, do your processes, for example wait times or discharge processes, allow for seamless encounters, minimal delays, quality and safe outcomes and efficiencies for both the caregiver and recipient of care?
  3. Superior services - Consider providing positive environmental factors and services including amenities from, for example, parking to room service, that add a wow factor to what you do. In considering this layer, I want to be clear that amenities alone do not equate to experience, they reinforce it, nor are they ultimately necessary for superior performance if you are successful in the more central needs.

In addressing patient experience performance, we must acknowledge uniqueness, reinforce the power and importance of interactions, turn our attention to the execution of fundamentals and make the space for all voices to not only be heard, but also matter. The secret to patient experience success may be no more complicated than that and I believe you knew that all along.

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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