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I have often found that the distinctions we draw between concepts seen as opposites are truly opportunities for alignment, improvement and sustained performance. This is no less true than in addressing the patient experience.
In the last week, I have had the chance to listen to the insights of two leading healthcare thinkers, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress 2016 and former Institute for Healthcare Improvement President and CEO Maureen Bisognano at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering PDC 2016. These talks raised two ideas that I think are central to healthcare and ultimately experience excellence.
Leavitt talked about having an awareness of weak signals (a term he learned during his cabinet tenure) in our current healthcare environment. He urged healthcare leaders not to miss the quiet and disparate ideas and occurrences that when connected, could lead to big things. In patient experience context, I refer to these ideas as “the spaces in between.”
I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Patient and Family Engagement Summit hosted by the North Carolina Quality Center (NCQC). I also must share I was honored to serve as the closing speaker to end the conference day. What was powerful and unique about the summit was not simply its focus on patient and family engagement and experience, but the fact that its participants represented the very audience of this critical work.
This idea is fundamental to success in experience work. What it underlines is that there is power in gathering--in bringing together the key voices of this work to have a dialogue. We cannot and must not fear the power of all voices coming together. In fact, this is the only way in which we can create the greatest change and drive the best in outcomes in our work.
What my visit to the summit revealed was that in the power of gathering we find kindred spirits, fellow learners, experts from which we can glean nuggets for action or strategic inspiration. I also saw that we have the opportunity to hold these similar conversations in our various geographies--be they statewide, regionally or even in individual cities. In bringing together the voices of those providing and those receiving care, we hold a space in which issues can be raised, ideas formulated and opportunities for action realized. This is the essence of community, through which we can shift the patient experience conversation fundamentally.
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.
For those who have followed my thoughts over the last few years, you may not be surprised to hear me suggest that patient experience matters in healthcare today. It matters for those we care for and serve, and it matters to all those working each and every day to provide the best in care at all touch points across the healthcare continuum.
I also maintain that we need to change our mindset about patient experience itself. I believe when we address the topic of patient experience we are talking about something much broader than the “experience of care” as identified in the triple aim. I suggest the idea of experience reflects our biggest opportunity in healthcare, where experience encompasses quality, safety and service moments, is impacted by cost and the implications of accessibility and affordability, is influenced by the health of our communities and populations and by both private the public health decisions that have systemic implications.
I also believe it is reflective of what we found in our research at The Beryl Institute on the state of patient experience itself; that the drivers of experience excellence are grounded not just in process excellence, but also in the very fibers that comprise our healthcare organizations and systems. That is the culture and leadership (at all levels) that drive how decisions are made, how interactions take place and how outcomes are achieved.
Earlier this week, our community, The Beryl Institute, turned 5 years old. In the context of healthcare as an industry, these five years are but a flash in time, but in the landscape of patient experience improvement as a central conversation to healthcare, it represents a significant segment in a new and expanding conversation.
In my first Hospital Impact blog now almost four years ago, I was exploring what we learned in our first State of Patient Experience benchmarking research and examining the state of what I believed was an emerging field in healthcare itself, I offered:
What I have found in my encounters with healthcare leaders is that while patient experience may be seen by some as a fad based on recent policy (i.e., a must do for now until the environment shifts), it is gaining greater traction as leaders now have the air cover needed to address patient experience as the right thing to do in a way they may not have been able to before.
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