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Support, care for health workers to improve patient experience

October 23rd, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

It was hard to engage in a healthcare conversation in recent weeks without hearing about the challenges presented and fear created by the global Ebola crisis. In the United States, the outcomes in Dallas brought home the complicated nature of a global healthcare system driven by protocol and process, and revealed that in striving for perfect outcomes, the healthcare system still built on human beings caring for human beings. This also means, as hard as we might work to avoid it, oversight or errors in healthcare happen.

In many efforts at the heart of patient experience--the integration of quality, safety and service and the connection of engagement, activation and partnership--we drive to reduce errors and/or avoid never events, or conversely, to drive the best in outcomes and ensure always events. Yet at the same time, many of us who advocate for experience (and I must own I have been guilty of it too) expect the ability for near flawless perfection at all times. Yes, we can strive for this, yes it would be ideal if we could achieve it, but we must realize that our humanity makes us vulnerable, variable and at times prone to mistakes. No one wants that to occur in his or her own case and unfortunately we probably still see more unavoidable errors outside of truly human mistakes than we should, but it does cause us to look at the root of issue.

I consistently advocate that patient experience is grounded in an organization's culture, and in that frame, it's through interactions between individuals where experience occurs--be it an interpersonal or a clinical encounter. As much as we need to focus on patient, resident and family needs, we must also be cognizant of those on the front lines and in the support roles who deliver that care or overall experience.

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We cannot and should not expect those providing care to shed their humanity for an elusive level of pure perfection. We should expect thought that they do all they can with their knowledge, skill and power to provide the best in experience and outcomes in each and every encounter. We must also then acknowledge this is not easy work--it comes with rigors, stresses and emotions many others never experience. These individuals commit to care for other people. So I ask, should we not ensure we care for them as well?

I hear increasing conversation about the importance of staff/employee engagement in healthcare--mirrored by the expansion of these very services by a number of the patient survey firms gathering this data. But in this case, I'm not talking simply about creating engagement, i.e., the emotional commitment and sense of ownership an employee has to the organization and its goals. Rather, I suggest we need to create an environment of care for those delivering and supporting care as well.

How do we do this? Consider these ideas to get started:

  • Acknowledge those providing/supporting the care of others are human as well. We must be mindful that these individuals must deal with the stress and emotion of their encounters.
  • Provide the opportunity for ongoing learning and development, retraining and review. In order to deliver the best care, we need to prepare and reinforce what that is, can and should be.
    Ensure systems of reward and recognition to reinforce and share what is important and valued.
  • Offer opportunities to debrief and share victories and lessons learned, as well as fears and mistakes. Surfacing issues leads to greater understanding, shared learning and sustained knowledge and performance. A mistake, if it happens, must also be a lesson. If it happens again, specifically in healthcare, the system itself has missed an opportunity and failed.
  • Provide the opening for feedback and input without fear of reprisal. Some of the greatest ideas come from the places you least expect. We should not stand in the way of this happening.
  • Provide the opportunity for downtime and rejuvenation. As healing takes restfulness, mindfulness and relaxation, so too does the ability to deliver on that healing promise.

As I engage in conversations with individuals and organizations about what impedes their progress to patient experience success, I consistently hear stories of time constraints and competing priorities. This isn't surprising, as most of the healthcare systems globally are asked to do more with less in terms of both resources and people. But if we're truly committed to achieving the best in experience and outcomes, we need to do all we can to take care of the mechanism of delivery--the people providing care. In doing so we create the strongest foundation on which to build safe, quality and service-focused encounters across all healthcare settings. In taking care of those who provide care, we will excel at taking care of those who seek it.

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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