The Patient Experience Must Be Owned By All: Welcoming the Society of Healthcare Consumer Advocacy

In The Beryl Institute’s recent research report – The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals 2013 – I noted in conclusion that the state of patient experience is growing stronger every day because of the many voices committed to this work. I too reinforced my belief that a patient experience movement is afoot, one that requires continuous and focused efforts and one that should be grounded in and built upon collaboration and alignment versus competition or the desire to stake a claim.

This idea rests at the very core of the global community of practice we have built at The Beryl Institute. We do not claim to own the patient experience, but rather to be a place where people can gather together to share what is best in what they are working to accomplish. Our philosophy has been and will remain that through collaboration not just great, but greater things can happen.

It is in this very spirit of collaboration that I am excited to share the bridging of two great organizations to expand the alignment and dialogue on patient experience improvement. We have been in discussion with and will soon be welcoming the Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy (SHCA) into The Beryl Institute community. After an incredible 40 year history and supportive home with the American Hospital Association (AHA), our three organizations – The Beryl Institute, SCHA and AHA – saw great potential in supporting the next 40 years and beyond for SHCA within the Institute (You can read a letter from all of SHCA’s Past Board Presidents here). As of January 1, 2014, our communities will align to continue to expand the patient experience conversation and in doing so model the power of coming together in this critical dialogue.

More details will soon be available around this exciting next step in the history of focus on patient advocacy and more broadly patient experience improvement, but suffice it to say, the commitment to engaging all voices and growing those engaged in this important work is top of mind for us all. I am excited and proud to welcome the SHCA community to The Beryl Institute family as their new professional home and in doing so reiterate the very critical message I share here. That it is in coming together, not attempts at market distinction, in which the greatest outcomes are possible.

I have watched in recent years as patient experience has moved from an emerging term to an active conversation at the center of policy and now financial focus. I have also seen a great game of ownership being played out. Much like one might have experienced during the gold rush, claiming their small bit of mountain stream to pan for hours, days or more in search of that one bright speck, many organizations – some well established, and some quite new – have all worked on positioning for their piece of the pie.

While I am a true believer in free enterprise and recognize the great potential for market savvy in this new world of healthcare, I also believe we have something bigger we are attempting to do in working towards patient experience excellence. It is in the bringing together of disparate thoughts or competing ideas, be they those of resource providers of similar services or healthcare organizations occupying the same market, in which the greatest outcomes can be realized. You see no one organization owns the patient experience, yet we in healthcare must all take ownership of it.

For this reason we have worked to bring the many voices together, for as I asserted above, this is where the strength of our work and its impact rests. This idea has been realized in the Institute’s Regional Roundtables where market “competitors” join together in sharing thoughts and crafting shared plans focused on improvement. It has been realized at Patient Experience Conference where numerous resource providers join in and engage in support of a true, independent community dialogue. It is seen in the willingness of some of the largest players in experience measurement to come together to share ideas between the covers of our soon to be released paper on the Voices of Measurement.

If we are to make the greatest differences in the lives of our patients, families, peers and community we must be open to the idea that above all else through collaboration and coordinated effort profound possibility exists for improvement and sustained impact. And while by my very words, I cannot claim The Beryl Institute is the only place this can or will be done, I do hope and in fact commit that we will continue to stand for the bringing together of all ideas, of every voice and of each hope in each and everything we do. As a community of practice it is our calling, at The Beryl Institute it is our cause and we are so very excited to see (and hopefully be a catalyst in) the patient experience family continuing to grow.

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

 

Regardless of U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Patient Experience is Central to the Future of Healthcare

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.
Executive Director
The Beryl Institute