Reigniting our Intention for Patient Experience Improvement

In just the last few days I had the privilege of spending time with the team at Cincinnati Children’s and then speaking with caregivers, staff, patients, family and community members as part of the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Central Local Health Integration Network Quality Symposium. While vastly different organizations and experiences that crossed an international border I was struck and even moved by the passion and commitment I see growing around the patient experience.

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This is no better exemplified then by the growth of our community at The Beryl Institute and the efforts that have been inspired by each of you. The dialogue on patient experience improvement is growing, not just due to surveys, or even at-risk dollars (though we would be mistaken not to acknowledge its influence). It is not just driven by shifts in policy or even an emerging consumer mindset that has brought the concept of personal choice to healthcare decision-making. We may best describe it instead, by the “perfect storm” of personal awareness, professional passion, and external influence all culminating in this moment. And this is your moment as an individual committed to patient experience improvement.

This culmination guides what we have been inspired to create through our community and in the coming weeks will make available to support this powerful intention. My hope as a servant for the needs of the over 20,000 members and guests of The Beryl Institute and the countless others committed to this movement is that we provide the framework, resources, learning and connections to foster continuous motion.

We start in just a few days with Patient Experience Conference 2014, a physical gathering to engage with one another in learning, sharing, challenging and inspiring efforts. It will be soon followed by Patient Experience Week, a new annual event, inspired by members of the Institute community, to celebrate healthcare staff impacting patient experience. Taking pause during this week provides a focused time for organizations to celebrate accomplishments, reenergize efforts and honor the people who impact patient experience everyday.

In the midst of these major events, are two dynamic resources designed to support the very intention I see burgeoning. The first, the release of the initial Patient Experience Body of Knowledge learning modules, brings this community effort guided by almost 500 voices to its next stage, in providing core learning for current and aspiring patient experience professionals. From this focus on practice we will also see a push for greater research with the launch of Patient Experience Journal (PXJ) and its Inaugural Issue bringing together the voices of academic and practical research from around the world to inform and even challenge our work.

In the weeks ahead, and in the weeks and months beyond, our task together must be to refresh, renew and reignite our intention through these and other efforts. The task at hand may be no simpler, yet never more complex. Your work as champions of patient experience is a relentless effort of doing what is right in every moment. Consider this a rallying cry in a month where powerful people and strong efforts will collide in great possibility. So what can you do about it? I offer:

  1. Acknowledge that whatever role you play, what every title you hold, whatever resources may be at your call, you are a leader for patient experience improvement.
  2. Recognize that complexity may be our greatest foe in dealing with what at its core is our commitment as human beings caring for human beings – keep it simple, that is where great power can be found.
  3. Commit to engaging others in your efforts – be it the voices of patients and families, the insights from community, the experiences of peers or colleagues. While at times it may feel lonely on this journey, know there are so many more carrying this passion with you.
  4. Focus relentlessly on where you can make a difference; the operative concept being there is a place that each and every one of you has a difference to make.
  5. Don’t let complacency be the enemy of your intention; yes there are now scores to earn, objectives to achieve, targets to shoot for, but don’t be afraid to do what you know is right in the end.

The team at Cincinnati Children’s reinforced what I have seen on many On the Road visits and the participants in Ontario exemplified it in their efforts. We all have a vested interest in improving patient experience – be it for ourselves, our loved-ones, our friends, or ourcommunities. This is a cause worth working towards and one in which I hope we will always remember the power of strong and true intention.

Jason. A. Wolf, Ph.D.
President
The Beryl Institute

How Will You Inspire the Patient Experience Movement? Four Considerations for 2014

InspiredI am inspired. The New Year has arrived with great energy at The Beryl Institute. We start 2014 as a global community of practice of over 20,000 professionals, focused without hesitation on ensuring the best in experience for patients, families and one another in healthcare.

I am inspired by the continued commitments expressed for this work: by The Beryl Institute’s Patient Experience Scholars who met recently to share their research and reinforce their willingness to encourage and support others; by the members of the Global Patient & Family Advisory Council who want to influence how patients and family members are heard and engaged in making a profound difference in healthcare; by the many contributing to the development of the Patient Experience Body of Knowledge courses soon to be available to the community; and by many more.

I am inspired by how in the first two weeks of a new year, such commitment and intent can emerge, built on all that has come before and focused with purpose on the great opportunities ahead. As I reflect on this idea, a question emerged and perhaps a challenge for each of us to consider:

How will you inspire the patient experience movement in the year ahead?

I pose this question with the hope that actions and considerations from the smallest moments of unparalleled kindness to the largest strategic triumphs all find room to take root and grow. Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this diversity it has strong commonalities – it causes us to feel a sense of something special and powerful. It provides a boundless energy to influence, lead, change and make a difference. This is an exciting prospect in seeing that each of us can choose to have an impact. And while no two actions will be exactly alike, I do want to offer a few thoughts on how you can continue to frame your patient experience efforts to inspire yourself and others.

As we return to the definition of patient experience, I continue to experience its relevance time-and-time again in the application of these words to central actions associated with excellence. In reviewing its words – the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions, across the continuum of care – I again see clear directions on moving your own experience efforts forward. They include:

1. Reinforce strategic focus. Patient experience has proven itself to be a relevant part of the healthcare conversation. It has surpassed the challenges of being dubbed a fad; it too has shown it has stronger legs than just serving as a policy framework. Experience is a central strategic pillar to organizational performance and success. Patient Experience in its broadest sense should be a clear and transparent component of every healthcare organization’s strategy.

2. Clarify and map your critical interactions. Experience doesn’t happen on billboards or in espoused actions, it happens at the most personal moments, at those points of engagement between one individual and another. The ultimate tool in patient experience improvement is your self, your heart, your hands and arms, your minds, your compassion and your common sense. We have a huge opportunity to map the interactions that occur on the patient path to ensure we consider the most effective way to respond at every touch point.

3. Model desired behaviors. Simply put, if interactions drive experience, then the behaviors that comprise them are the conduits that direct these interactions in one way or another. Organizational culture is shaped by behaviors, they represent the people, presence and purpose of an organization overall and no slogan, policy or program will trump the power of individual behavior. We must model, observe, coach and improve constantly to impact experience outcomes.

4. Expand your listening. As we ended 2013 exploring the Voices of Measurement, we learned that the power of data is only as valid as what we choose to do with it. Collection or reporting data for the sake of data misses the opportunity for learning and relevant action. To capitalize on the value of the voices that surround us in healthcare we must expand our listening. Experience is measured first in the direct voices of healthcare consumers, who remain our most significant mirror into our own efforts, but it is also found in the voices of our peers and colleagues. We are only capable of achieving our strategy through our people. They are much more than pawns to direct, but rather living resources accountable for ensuring excellence.

Perhaps these ideas will help spark your own thoughts on how you will choose to inspire the patient experience movement. Regardless of which direction you go, I hope you recognize the power that exists in your own personal choice and the ability to impact the experience of the person that is coming next. The year ahead can and should be about a great many things both personally and professionally. My hope is that you find you can and will be an inspiration in your efforts. This cause is too great for your efforts to be anything less. Now the question remains, what will you do? I look forward to your updates with great anticipation.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
President
The Beryl Institute

A Patient Experience Lesson from the Latest U.S. Congressional Showdown

USCapitolWhile I don’t wade into the political spectrum often in these discussions, in light of the news of the day, I am hard pressed not to at least share a reflection on what is taking place in Washington, D.C., its impact on the U.S. Healthcare system, and the broader economic implications it is presumed to have. I do not intend to advocate for one position or another here, but rather share a core reflection on the lesson I see for patient experience professionals in the current state of affairs.

For those of us in healthcare (and in reality for all of those that are not), this week signifies a historic time with some of the first steps underway in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare. Regardless of the actions (or inactions) on Capitol Hill, and whether you are in support of or against it, the healthcare law will move forward for now. I do not intend to break down the law and examine its detailed impact on the patient experience here. Rather, I hope to share a simple but significant realization about the entire U.S. Healthcare system revealed in this debate.

Recent polls conducted separately by both Fox News and CNBC found that when asked, Americans often distinguish between the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Obamacare. Much of this distinction is driven from the very mouths of congressional and other political leaders. In fact in exploring people’s opinions on the programs under these two naming conventions there was a variance in the value, interest and support for each of these programs. The challenge (or perhaps surprise) in this discovery is that in fact these two programs are exactly the same thing – the ACA is Obamacare and vice versa.

The reality is in healthcare we have many words that raise this same challenge in our delivery system, driven by providers, supported by payors and serving patients and families. The example above, of divergent opinions on, in essence, the same idea, driven by language, expert opinion or pure rhetoric, is one of the best I have seen reinforcing with clear data the power of language and more importantly perception.

The concept of perception – the way you think about or understand someone or something – is a central part of the patient experience itself. Defining patient experience as the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient (and family) perceptions across the continuum of care makes explicit that perception is both the result of experience and also the lens through which people make choices now and into the future around their care.

For the reported confusion created in the language around two names for the same healthcare law – ACA or Obamacare – there are limitless levels of confusion created in the language of our healthcare system itself, from diagnosis to medications, acronyms to systemic issues. In the simplest of terms we all too often and in many cases unintentionally create confusions for the healthcare community, our patients and their families in the terminology and language we choose to use. I recently sat on a panel at DePaul University on the future of healthcare in the U.S. and this very issue emerged – that in creating true accessibility we have to not only have the proper processes and checklists in place, but also the right, and perhaps more importantly, the clearest language possible.

I am not suggesting the healthcare system is facing the same levels of dysfunction as the U.S. Congress, but I do believe there is a great opportunity for clarity in making the healthcare experience easier and better for all receiving care. Finding language that works for patients and families, as well as for those working in the system, will only serve to better engage and inform patients and families and support the invaluable nature of their role as partners in the healthcare process.

This could perhaps be one of the first and most important steps in driving patient experience success. There is power in language, in its application and perception…the US congress taught us that again this week in a way I don’t think we cared to learn. But in this chaos I see a silver lining, an important lesson for all of us either entrusted with and/or committed to the best in patient experience. Manage perceptions with clarity and honesty in each and every healthcare encounter. It may not change the system overnight, but it will have a positive and powerful ripple effect that will be very hard to diminish.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
President
The Beryl Institute

Patient Experience and the Freedom of Choice

IPatient Experience and the Freedom of CHoice - The Beryl Instituten writing a blog for a US-based, global organization on the week of July 4th, I am hard pressed not to think about the concepts of independence, of freedom and of what those concepts provide for. To be independent, to be of free will, is something most, if not all, aspire to. It is ingrained in our human nature, for at its base is an idea so simple, yet at times so complex – the power of choice. For me this concept of choice is the essence of patient experience itself.

When I talk to people about the strategies and tactics of patient expedience improvement, I start with the simple recognition that what we do in healthcare – as human beings caring for human beings – is about the choices we make. From leaders guiding organizations on what priorities are set each day, to frontline caregivers across healthcare settings we are making choices in every moment, not just on what care to deliver, but how to deliver it as well.

This power of choice is profoundly important, and of increasing influence in our healthcare systems today. While we once may have gone directly to our local physician or hospital and listened intently with respect, following every word and instruction, the nature of healthcare itself has changed. I know to some this poses a great concern and others even disdain. For me, it reveals the true potential for excellence we have in healthcare systems around the world.

The debate has long simmered on if patients are customers of care. Using this term allows supporters of the historic healthcare hierarchy to diminish the very voice of patients, most often unintentionally. And you may be surprised to hear that I agree. Patients for the most part in healthcare today are not the customers of care. Customers are those individuals or organizations that choose to pay for a product of service. In fact following this logic, most often, insurance companies and/or government entities are the true customers of healthcare as they are the one’s directly funding services or paying the bill.

What does this mean then for our choice as patients? While many rightly make the argument, that as patients we do not choose to fall ill, have an accident, etc., that is we do not most often choose to be customers of healthcare, we overlook what I suggest above – that as human beings we still have choice. This distinguishes to me where patient experience plays it most significant role, especially economically. Patients are without question consumers of healthcare, regardless of systems, locality or structures. From an economic perspective it is the consumer who drives markets and influences business viability. Consumerism is the consideration that the free choice of individuals strongly influences what is offered to a market, what grows and what is overlooked. Therefore consumers and the choice they bring have strong economic impact.

The bottom line is that as patients have independence, even with some constraints based on insurance or in governmental healthcare systems, and therefore they have choice. Patients will note where the experience – the culmination of quality, safety and service – is best. And they wont keep it secret. Outside of the increasing use of government surveys globally to measure and publicly report performance, other consumer outlets are quickly booming – have you yelped your physician’s office lately, or seen the dialogue on Facebook about the care in your local hospital? This is consumerism at its finest and it is having great impact.

Patients have discovered they too have choice in the system, to not just expect, but to directly ask for and seek the best care they can find. Yes, patients do not choose a healthcare encounter like they would a hotel or an entertainment experience, they actually do so MORE significantly because this choice is about their own or a family member or friend’s well-being. A dear colleague, an inspiration for patients as true consumers of care, and a contributor to our Voices of Patients and Family paper – “e-Patient Dave” deBronkart clearly expresses the need for us as patients and family to choose to engage in our care, in ensuring we are fully informed and in doing so make the right choices.

I too am reminded about a story a gentlemen shared once with me about his 80-year old mother who when finding she needed hip replacement, scoured the internet for information on the procedure, recovery times, outcomes, etc. She discovered, that while scheduled for surgery at her local hospital (where she had gone for years), there was a better place for her to have her surgery in another state a plane ride away. She booked the ticket, made the trip and had her surgery. Now while all patients choices may not be that extreme, we must acknowledge that we all have choice – in some ways it is all we have – in how we decide to deliver care or on where we decide to receive it.

On a week where independence is held high, it is important that we remember it is not just a holiday in the United States, but a statement about the very freedom we have as individuals, as consumers: the freedom to choose. The Declaration of Independence declared that individuals “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There may be no stronger place for us to remember these choices than in the decisions affecting our health. As healthcare leaders we must remember this, as caregivers honor it, and as patients and families never forget – the choice is truly ours.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
President
The Beryl Institute

 

Organizational Culture: A Critical Choice at the Heart of an Exceptional Patient Experience

The Beryl Institute defines patient experience as the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care. While healthcare organizations may not be able to directly control the perceptions of patients and families, the opportunity to influence these perceptions is grounded in their very culture. I suggest that culture is fundamentally based on the choices an organization makes.

When I first explored the characteristics of high performing organizations in healthcare, “seven simple truth’s” emerged that were tied to positive outcomes. They represented committed choices of action in the organizations studied. These truths included:

  • Visionary leadership
  • Consistent and effective communication
  • Selecting for fit and ongoing development of staff
  • Agile and open culture
  • Central focus on service
  • Constant recognition and broad community outreach
  • Solid physician/clinical relationships

It was this combination of efforts that helped organizations drive exceptional outcomes in experience, engagement, quality and the bottom-line. These characteristics have continued to emerge during my exploration of what is driving patient experience success in healthcare organizations around the world.

As recently as my last two On the Road visits, with St. David’s Healthcare and Scripps Health, the central role of culture in patient experience efforts was reinforced. In the St. David’s system, at the core of the process for reinforcing system-wide values and focus on exceptional experience are three questions. They ask daily how staff will define, live and manage the culture. The recognition at St. David’s is that the experience tactics you implement are only as effective as the foundation of culture on which they are built.

This was also the case at Scripps Health, where they recognized the very nature of the organization has a significant impact on overall experience. Vic Buzachero, Scripps Health’s Corporate Senior Vice President for Innovation, Human Resources and Performance Management shared, “It is important that we build a culture that drives consistency in our effort. We must have the infrastructure to show the genuine nature of our organization, reinforce our focus on the patient and shape the balance of systems, processes and behaviors that will help us realize our goals.”

This is not just a U.S.-based phenomenon. My visit to the NHS in the United Kingdom reinforced the importance of culture to experience. They created an opportunity for patients, family and community members to interact directly with senior leadership and initiated processes that improved communication and understanding of patient’s needs. They also focused on creating happy and engaged staff to ensure happy patients.

This idea is reinforced by recent research conducted by Britt Berrett and Paul Spiegelman. They suggest in any business, and especially healthcare, you can’t take care of customers ifyou don’t take care of employees. The realization, as we saw exemplified in the cases above, is that to ensure the best experience and focus on patients and families, there must also be an intentional focus and effort to create employee engagement and loyalty. Again, this is driven by the culture of an organization. (They offer a complimentary survey in which you can gauge your own organization’s culture of engagement).

Through all our explorations at The Beryl Institute into what drives the best in experience there has always been an element of those simple organizational truths above, all which represent a commitment to creating a culture of service. Simply putting tactics in place has you run the risk of turning your patient experience efforts into the latest flavor of the month activity. Patients and their families and yes your colleagues and employees deserve much more. To truly drive an exceptional patient experience, you can only influence perceptions through the choices you make. One of the most critical of those being the type of organizational culture you choose to create.

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

Creating a Body of Knowledge for Patient Experience Leaders

In The Beryl Institute paper, “The Four Cornerstones of Patient Experience”, we discovered that when organizations choose to have a leader with committed time to guide patient experience efforts, those organizations outperform their peers in both HCAHPS performance as well as patient satisfaction results. Finding that intentional focus on an issue leads to better results is not surprising, but it is important to note that a focused individual made the difference.

This led us to ask, if we can show that having an identified patient experience leader is a critical component of success, and specifically in driving measures that have service, quality and financial implications for healthcare organizations, can we define what it is that this individual does?

We started with a small steering team of healthcare professionals from hospitals and organizations across the United States on a mind-mapping exercise to identify key areas of knowledge critical to patient experience leaders. This exercise led to the development of domains that started to frame a core body of knowledge. Job descriptions were explored from roles around the world, competency models were examined from related fields and organizations, and then broader input was sought engaging patient experience and healthcare leaders from the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. The feedback led to hundreds of pages of thoughts on the critical nature and true complexity of patient experience and of the knowledge needed to effectively address it.

The discovery was powerful; a body of knowledge for patient experience leaders that began to shape an identifiable field of practice. It also brought greater clarity to the findings in the “Four Cornerstones” paper. While a focused individual was critical, this alone would not drive patient experience success. Rather an individual needs the skill set and “know-how” to truly impact this central component of the healthcare world.

That leads us to today, where the input and work of over one hundred volunteer leaders and contributors provides an initial framework to explore and a new possibility for shaping the field of patient experience. On Monday, March 5 we unveiled the Patient Experience Body of Knowledge and the 14 domains of knowledge key to an effective patient experience leader. With all the work that has led to this point, it is now that a much broader conversation gets underway.

We invite individuals from all corners of the healthcare system, including patient experience practitioners, healthcare leaders and staff, physicians, patients, families and community members to contribute their voices to the process. For the next 6 weeks, through Monday, April 16, we will be gathering your input to further polish this work. We will share the results of this effort to start Patient Experience Conference 2012. At The Beryl Institute, we believe the patient experience is about every player in the healthcare process and should encompass the voices of all those it impacts.

In healthcare, experience is truly central to all we do. The opportunity to provide a framework for the important work taking place every day in healthcare organizations is a critical global dialogue. I invite and encourage you to join the conversation.

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