One question I was consistently asked in anticipation of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision was what impact the outcome would have on the importance of patient experience. My response was unwavering; that if healthcare organizations are simply driven by policy or perceived political pressure they might want to reconsider their true purpose and very existence. Regardless of the outcome of last week’s decision, I believe the increasing focus on experience in healthcare is more than practical or pragmatic; it is central to the highest quality healthcare encounter.
This week I was posed the question again during a workshop I had the privilege of leading titled Shaping Healthcare Experience: The Power of Interaction. The audience included healthcare and service professionals from across Europe. The discussions that were ignited and the passion with which the participants engaged in the subject supported my belief that the effort to achieve excellence in patient experience is not simply a phenomenon in the United States or one simply driven by policy. This is also reinforced by the fact that over 23 countries are represented as members and guests of The Beryl Institute itself. Patient experience is a without question a fundamental and global discussion.
Whether it is global perspective or political or policy motivations, those of us engaged in healthcare in whatever capacity need to consider the impact of our work on the experience of patients and families. As I discussed in my workshop, we are all touched by healthcare in some way either directly or indirectly through family or friends. More so we are aware of not just the outcomes, but also the stories we take from those encounters. Those stories are comprised of powerful and important interactions – as suggested by the Institute’s definition of patient experience as “the sum of all interactions…” In the workshop I posed the question of which interactions are most important in the healthcare encounter. After a long brainstorming effort the realization was that every interaction from the most critical clinical interventions to the almost unnoticeable or mundane encounters collectively equate to the experience people have and all are equally important.
At their core, each of those interactions is about a choice. As healthcare organizations you choose how to structure processes or determine what behaviors and expectations to establish and reinforce. With this, healthcare organizations are also held to the individual choices their people make at every touch point across the care continuum. It is here where you may be making things more complicated then necessary. By focusing on policy or political constraints you overlook the simplest of human factors; that people most often want to do the right thing. What must be done as leaders is to provide the support, the environment, the culture in which the right choices can be made, the right interactions provided and the best of experiences ensured.
I hope we can shift the discussion on experience from “why” and “what”, from policy or politics, to understanding there is a fundamental choice to provide the best experience possible for our patients, families and guests. In the desire to engineer this process we overlook the basic fact that healthcare at its core is human beings caring for human beings. In recognizing this, you ensure patient experience is a central and driving force to a continuously improving global healthcare system. It just starts with a simple choice.
Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
The Beryl Institute