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Hospitals must define patient experience

September 25th, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

In my most recent Hospital Impact blog, I reinforced the simple, but significant need to focus on 3 Ps of Patient Experience, offering that at the core of this idea is the central purpose on which an organization builds its experience effort.

I closed with, "I see one consistent action in those organizations achieving success. They are clear on who they are, what they want achieve and where they are going. This is the idea of definition I often speak to and reinforce." Yet with this fundamental importance, defining patient experience remains an elusive idea for many. In fact, it's a question people ask me frequently: How do we define patient experience for our organization?

I'm not surprised, as recent benchmarking research discovered only 45 percent of U.S. hospitals had a formal definition of patient experience for their organization. While people may have clear personal purpose in healthcare, the foundation on which organizations build their patient experience efforts in many cases is shaky at best.

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At The Beryl Institute we developed--and now people in many healthcare organizations around the world have come to adopt (or adapt)--the definition: the sum of all interactions, based on an organization's culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.

In exploring each element--interactions, culture, perceptions and across the continuum--it remains clear that experience is delivered at the numerous touch points, it's built on the types of organizations we choose to be and it must actively engage patients and family members as partners on the journey.

This leads us back to the question, how do we start the process of creating a definition for our organization? I maintain definition is the first of the key strategic considerations in any experience effort. In a recent article
"Defining Patient Experience" published in Patient Experience Journal identified a critical set of themes central to existing definitions I believe helps create a definition that works for your organization. They include:

  • Acknowledge the need for a definition. This may be the easiest to understand and the most difficult to address. This is not an empty exercise or lip service, but purposeful focus and intent.
  • Cover the continuum of care. Definitions must acknowledge the breadth and complexity of the experience in today's healthcare environment and opt for wider reach.
  • Look beyond survey results. Purpose is not about the percentile you achieve, but about the greater outcomes you hope to influence through your actions.
  • Focus on expectations. Definitions must acknowledge the needs and expectations of all in your care and all who help in providing care, consider what voices to include and engage.
  • Align with patient-centered care principles. Fundamentally, patient-centered care principles--including respect and dignity, information sharing, participation and collaboration--are excellent guides for action. Experience is about more than just "centeredness"--it's a partnership with all in the process.
  • Recognize individualized care. Definitions must support the idea that with clarity of purpose, you are not suggesting a one size fits all model. Rather, experience is personal and unique.
  • Address more than satisfaction. In a previous blog I made the case for why experience and satisfaction are not one in the same. Experience is and must be much more. Your definition ensures this.

The definition must be simple, clear and true to who you are, and honors the voices of all in and served by your organization. As a result, everyone in your organization can confidently and proudly share it.

If you believe providing the best in experience is fundamental to who you are as an organization (and I would hope this is every healthcare organization), then you owe it to yourself and those you serve to take the first step. Define patient experience for your organization--adapt, adopt or author your own. In doing so you will lay the foundation for the positive outcomes we all aspire to deliver and hope to receive.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is president of The Beryl Institute, a global community of practice focused on patient experience improvement and founding editor of Patient Experience Journal. Follow Jason @jasonawolf , The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute and Patient Experience Journal @pxjournal on Twitter.

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