I have yet to meet anyone in healthcare who suggests patient experience is not important. In fact, I often hear it said to be “one of our top priorities”, “a central pillar in our strategy” or “a critical initiative for our organization”. I do not question the sincerity of these declarations or the intent they suggest. I also recognize in the highly dynamic world of healthcare today we are in a constant struggle to balance our priorities. With that, I offer these thoughts to shift our thinking in how we approach experience overall.
To frame what I mean about patient experience I return to the definition generated by themembers of The Beryl Institute community – the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care. I also want to challenge the perspective of some in equating patient experience only to service and question our inside-out focus in healthcare as we often operationally differentiate quality, safety and service. While we may operate these efforts in distinct and at times competing manners, I do not believe patients distinguish between these areas. Yes, we must focus on quality, safety and service and align the appropriate resources to each, but we must address these efforts from the eyes of our consumer and the perspective that they together create but one experience.
As I have continued to hear patient experience identified as a strategic priority, it has caused me to ask, does this mean based on needs there are then specific times when we actually focus on it (and therefore times we don’t). That is, do we truly focus on every one of our priorities at all times? Continuing this thought, if patient experience is seen as an initiative, it has all but been declared a limited effort, for every initiative I have experienced in healthcare and elsewhere has a beginning, middle and therefore an end. Do we truly think the patient experience is an idea where the effort eventually concludes?
These ideas around alignment, priority and initiative were supported in the findings of the 2013 Benchmarking Study, The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals. The research revealed something one could potentially overlook in all that was uncovered. In the U.S. Hospital System the individual with primary responsibility for patient experience spends 63% of their time on these efforts. In contrast, I do not know of a CFO that spends 63% of his time on finances. The data itself reinforces the opportunity we may very well be missing. Have we made patient experience a 63% priority? If we take that to the extreme, does that mean it is only something we consider for 63 out of every 100 patients we see? I do not believe any organization or leader has done this intentionally, but it does cause us to hopefully stop and think about how we lead and operate our organizations and systems.
I know those in healthcare are more committed than what the number reveals. We are an industry of caring and compassionate people who give all they can in every moment. But the data opens our eyes to the opportunities we have. Perhaps what we have lost in our efforts to address patient experience is our realization that experience is all we are about in healthcare. I know that if any one of us were laying on an exam table, recovering in a bed, or sitting holding the hand of a family member that we would not expect anything less than 100%. In fact I believe we would say we want the best in quality, safety and service – the best experience – in every encounter. I believe we all do want the best in patient experience for all those in our care. I hope we too agree the patient experience deserves more than 63%. So how can we start to do things differently today? I look forward to your thoughts.
Jason. A. Wolf, Ph.D.
The Beryl Institute