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Guiding principles for patient experience excellence

January 21st, 2016

by Jason A. Wolf

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to address a conference room full of physicians and clinical leaders on what matters in patient experience and the new mindset that is shifting the way we work in healthcare today. What stood out for me in that engagement and the dialogue that ensued was as one participant shared, “the reality of how vulnerable a conversation on the patient experience [is] makes me feel.”

This sentiment was not the outlier, but rather this idea emerged as central to the discussion I had with many about the challenges they felt in today’s system, the constraints that impeded efforts and their ultimate desire to reignite a focus on the fundamentals that drove them to chose healthcare as their life’s work. Vulnerability in this light is not just about the implications of the systemic issues of the day, but it seems to be the true acknowledgment of the humanness that we find at the core of healthcare interactions overall. It is this same vulnerability that lies at the core of the experience for a patient, family or caregiver network. It is grounded in the fear of the unknown, the anticipation of the challenges to be faced, the hopes and dreams of what outcomes will result.

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In this openness my belief--that in healthcare we are first and foremost human beings caring for human beings--was not just reinforced, but amplified. For in the multidimensionality of the relationships that comprise our healthcare system, I do not think we can deny that most involved are committed to achieving something positive, even profound, for all involved. This underlies the true essence of experience. Yes, there are tactics we can implement to make measured improvement, but if we are not prepared to make a fundamental shift, in both acknowledging and working to address the very vulnerabilities this conversation raises, then we may never ultimately realize our true intent.

I do believe that there is an opportunity readily available to us all. One grounded in the guiding principles that have emerged from the experiences of so many tackling this work. These guiding principles for patient experience excellence, first shared by The Beryl Institute last year, represent eight areas for strong and focused action, unwavering commitment and personal and organizational self-awareness. They are offered as aspirational and affirmative statements about where we as individuals, organizations and collectively as the patient experience movement should focus our efforts. Rather than the answer, we believe these provide the foundational ideas on which we can build our work.

I invite and encourage healthcare organizations globally to consider and commit to putting these ideas into practice in the ways best suited for their organization. With a focus on these principles, we believe organizations and systems committed to providing the best in experience will:

  • Identify and support accountable leadership with committed time and focused intent to shape and guide experience strategy
  • Establish and reinforce a strong, vibrant and positive organizational culture and all it comprises
  • Develop a formal definition for what experience is to their organization
  • Implement a defined process for continuous patient and family input and engagement
  • Engage all voices in driving comprehensive, systemic and lasting solutions
  • Look beyond clinical experience of care to all interactions and touch points
  • Focus on alignment across all segments of the continuum and the spaces in between
  • Encompass both a focus on healing and a commitment to well-being

In choosing to engage in these principles, organizations create a strongly woven foundation on which to apply their tactics of choice and establish a framework for intentional focus, commitment and therefore the sustainability we all strive for in this work. Perhaps it is that fear of what has come before and our inability to maintain a focus on what we believed to be so important, that left us feeling that same vulnerability that brave individual shared with me.

As The Beryl Institute has noted, we have a unique opportunity in healthcare today to shift how we think about patient experience, and focus on what we can do about it fundamentally for all engaged in our healthcare organizations at all touch points and segments of the care continuum, across care environments, at points of transition and in the critical spaces in between.

As guiding principles, the work is ultimately up to you. By seizing the opportunity for action and the potential for the outcomes to which it can lead, you take a bold stand in acknowledging that as human beings we are all vulnerable and this work may never truly be easy. But it is without question the most significant, rewarding and profound opportunity we may ever have--as one human being to another. We must continue to move forward.

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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