They say when someone mentions a Red Beetle – the automobile version from Volkswagenor “bug” – you go from not seeing them at all to seeing them everywhere you look. In a similar fashion my recent conversations on the patient experience have raised this sense of “everywhere” awareness to the idea of community. From as recently as our March 5 webinar on patient engagement to the final interviews I just conducted for our pending paper on the Voices of Patients & Families on Patient Experience, there is a recognition that while patient experience is built on the foundation of countless personal interactions, when pulled together it is a true community issue and, I would suggest, opportunity.
The idea of community aligns strongly with the definition of patient experience that asserts patient experience crosses the entire continuum of care. I need to reinforce from the perspective we hold at the Institute this is not just the continuum within the four walls of the clinical experience, but from the very first encounters someone has with your organization to the stories they share well after their departure or discharge. Where are these stories told and where do they live beyond the boundaries of what you can control? In your communities, in the voices of people that have either had encounters with your organization or who have heard the stories, true or embellished, about what happened within your walls.
This means to provide a true experience, you must think well beyond the physical nature of your facilities or practices to recognize the experience resides in the network of people that surround and are connected to your organization, both near and far. This is at its heart, the essence of experience. As defined, experience is all that is perceived, understood and remembered. Those perceptions and memories and the stories through which they are shared are not collected at your doors, but rather they flourish in the sunlight and in the air of the streets, towns, and cities around you. The experience you provide is a community story and one you must be willing to acknowledge and address.
But I want to suggest another angle on community as well that is as equally important in all I have seen. That accomplishing the greatest in experience is a true community effort. It is not just something that can happen at admissions or discharge, or in your top performing units or departments. It must happen across the organization or system. More so I strongly believe the essence of patient experience thrives in much bigger ideas of community, which is why we have worked so hard in creating a true community of practice in The Beryl Institute itself.
I continue to be amazed by the generosity of spirit and sharing that has been afforded by the safe framework of our community. The realization that in healthcare if we are to be about the patient experience, holding our cards close to our chest or believing our “secret” process is our competitive advantage, is counter to what we are all trying to achieve. As much as I admire systems and organizations big and small for what they accomplish, I can tell you from my travels and encounters around the world, there is no one secret to success. What I have seen as the greatest resource comes back to the idea of that red beetle – community. It is in our willingness to share ideas and practice, to be open to exposing where we may have been challenged and celebrate and disseminate that which drove success, through which we can all impact patient experience.
This is not just a lesson for those in the delivery of care, but for those that support it; the resource providers and vendors, from survey companies to technology tools. It is their willingness to collaborate and share in community through which even greater things can happen. While their distinctions may be in variations of a theme in process and clearly more on level of service and the personalities involved, the reality is that they too play a part in this critical community conversation. From leadership to the frontline, from the future to patients and families themselves, it is the spirit of community and through the action of community that we can ensure the greatest in patient experience for all the patients, families and yes the very communities we serve.
As we approach Patient Experience Conference 2013, and we bring our virtual global community together physically for a few days this April, we hope that we are all reminded that it is through our connections that we have the opportunity for greatest impact. It is in our collective efforts and shared learning that we have the clearest path to success. My hope, and my vigorous invitation, is to join us, join this community and our efforts at The Beryl Institute as member or guest; as caregiver, physician, administrator, resource provider, patient or family member and to be in conversation on what we can accomplish as a community, together. The greatest of opportunities will emerge when we find our collective voice and there is so much yet to learn from one another.
Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
The Beryl Institute