In my most recent Hospital Impact blog I noted that “how” we choose to do things in healthcare will and should trump the “what”. This is supported by my travels through numerous healthcare organizations where it is becoming evident that the core practices organizations are using to drive patient experience success are more and more consistent. While some might see this as limiting, I see it as encouraging.
Why is that? It means we are listening to one another, learning from each other and showing an incredible willingness to “steal ideas shamelessly” as a well respected CEO once shared with me in describing a component of their organizational success. That means the ‘what’ we do is not very different location to location. The distinguishing characteristic in experience is not the things you do, but the way in which your deliver. This is at the core of the very definition of patient experience as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture”.
This ability to listen and learn from one another is a central value of all we do at The Beryl Institute. As a global community of practice we can (and must) learn from all edges of the community – those Institutions rated the “best” or seen as the “biggest” do not represent the only expertise. Rather it is in trying and executing of ideas in organizations of all shapes, sizes and focus through which excellence is supported and shared. It is based on this premise that the idea of a broad and inclusive range of voices has been so central to our work.
In returning to the conversation of “how”, I reflect on the recent conversations I had with 18 incredible patient and family advocates committed to the work of improving quality, safety and service for patients and families around the world in preparing the most recent paper from The Beryl Institute – Voices of Patients and Families: Partners in the Patient Experience. The stories these individual’s shared of compassion personified and at times the uglier side of care help us realize that there is power in how we choose to manage the interactions we have in healthcare every day. That it is truly more than the tactics, and rather the execution that matters.
The point I make here is all the tactics in the world amount to very little if all they are is something we do TO people in our care. The old language of provider and recipient may well still be used in healthcare, but its use is outdated and indicative of a system in need of change. Patients – yes, you and I, our children and parents, family and friends – are active parts of the healthcare equation, not passive recipients of it. We need to ensure we start acting this way. This perspective is exemplified through the work of such great organizations as the Society for Participatory Medicine.
While there are countless lessons shared by the individuals interviewed in the Voices paper, we inherently know many of them ourselves. Our contributors helped frame three central ideas in ensuring partnership in the care environment:
1. Acknowledge patients are not subjects in the healthcare process or “something” you should talk about or plan for in third person.
2. Recognize patients are not necessarily wired to actively engage in the healthcare process, due both to the complexity of healthcare and the nature of the system itself (that potentially diminishes the role of the patient in an unspoken hierarchy of expertise). You must ask, encourage, and act on the patient’s voice.
3. Consider coordinating efforts to identify and incorporate patient perceptions into the overall planning of care.
Personally, as I continue the journey of new fatherhood, I saw this play out in the very interactions we have had with our pediatrician. At our stage as new parents, we could be scolded, challenged or even talked down to about how we handle situations. Instead our doc engages us based on our questions, our hopes and fears. I know she is getting all the needed clinical work done, but she is including us as patients and family, as partners in the process. This is an active decision on her part, it is one that engages us in the care of our son and ensures a positive experience with every visit. “How” is a choice we can all make in healthcare and is one I believe will make all the difference.
Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
The Beryl Institute