Whose experience is it anyway?

During two of my recent On the Road visits (one with Children’s National Medical Center and another for an upcoming story on Banner Health) what I observed and what came up in conversation caused me to pause and ask the question – whose experience is it anyway?

In one example, Kelli Shepherd, the Director of Service Excellence at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital, shared a subtle, but profound change in the language they were using. The shift was one in perspective – from “our” beds to “their” beds. A simple change, but one I believe challenges one of the central mental models I have seen in healthcare. We have often viewed patients as individuals that things are done TO, not necessarily done FOR.

I would not say we have turned healthcare into a heartless, mechanical process. Rather, I caution that what we may have done in not recognizing “ours” versus “theirs” is to design processes and systems and implement requirements and standards made to work best for us, not our patients and families. So what can we do to address this?

1. Clarify perspective. Are we building our programs, and even our patient experience efforts, from what we believe will best fit our needs? Or are we considering the perspective of patients and families as our guests? Stop and ask yourself, especially as you consider developing your patient experience effort, if the process is based on what is easiest for you or what is best for the patient?

2. Build an active process to engage patients, families and the community at large in how we can provide the best experience possible. Many organizations are now using patient focus groups not only to gather feedback post experience, but also to design processes and programs. At Children’s National, Patient Family Advisory Council members are embedded in many departments. They review and offer feedback on processes and provide an open avenue to ensure a broader perspective is available in all planning; they have even participated in the redesign of units.

3. Find ways to show you “listened”. The biggest return on experience investment is ensuring that patients and families not only feel heard in the moment, but also that the experience they are having overall reflects their wants and needs. Find avenues to show you are listening; be transparent about the input you seek and when and how you can (or cannot) use it.

As many of us in healthcare call hospitals the “house”, we must acknowledge that we are welcoming patients and their families into “our” house as guests. Our efforts should be focused on ensuring we provide the best experience possible. To do so we must recognize whose experience it is in the first place.

Jason. A Wolf, Ph.D.
Executive Director
The Beryl Institute