Silence: The Invisible Tool for Patient Experience Excellence

2016-02I must start my comments with a disclaimer that this blog is not about noise reduction, though I still have yet to find an organization that has conquered this great challenge in healthcare today. In fact our own research at The Beryl Institute continues to show noise reduction to be a leading area of focus, public survey results continue to highlight it as a challenge and a simple walk around most healthcare facilities reinforces the opportunity this issue represents.

Interesting enough was that in our own work on the issue of noise and hearing from recognized efforts in the field of healthcare acoustics that we will never and in actually should never strive for perfect silence. Not only would it be unachievable, it would not meet the true needs of so many in our care. Rather what I mean by silence as we look to patient experience excellence is a much different idea. I wish to frame this not as a negative – i.e., the result of suppressing noise, but rather in the appreciative, as the art of creating a space in which we can hear.

I spent the last week traveling the halls of healthcare organizations and was warmed by the buzz of humanity, and embraced by the rhythmic symphony of conversations and footsteps, beeps and clicks all symbolizing the living nature of healthcare. But what was most moving and perhaps most powerful was a lesson hiding invisibly in front of all us in healthcare trying to have a positive impact…it was those subtle moments between the beats that have incredible power.

In providing a sense of silence for those we work with, care for and serve we create a space for their voices to be heard, their ideas to find opportunities to grow. In affording the gift of silence – that is the space of silence – we enable people to feel acknowledged and listened too. Yet we must also admit that of all places healthcare may be the hardest place to provide this space of silence.

What I mean by this is our ability to be with someone so they can express themselves, providing time to think and reply, to open our eyes or inform us even in the face of the great expertise so many bring in this work. In the space of silence we do more to offer a sense of dignity and respect, of care, compassion, and commitment than we almost ever do in providing a monologue pertaining to our expertise. There is a time and a place for that as well.

In a world where speed so often matters and chaos is the foundation of normality, the ability to sit with someone and allow them to be heard is profound. So how can we proceed in this way for better outcomes in all we do? It may be the most simple, yet difficult concept I have yet proposed in tacking patient experience opportunities. Yet I see it over and over, when we take the time to listen for needs, understand pains, work to connect with the human standing across from us that most of all wants to be heard, great things can and do happen.

As an extrovert I am guilty of violating this trust more often that I would like to admit, so I feel comfortable challenging us all in how we can proceed. How often do we provide the space for a reply, invite a comment or simply choose to be with someone by sitting at their bedside, holding their hand. Words at times do more to create our noise problems than anything else. More so we hear from many that in their attempt to be heard we in healthcare often miss their voices…our lack of silence being the very liability we look to avoid.

This was no more apparent to me than in the moving story shared by a brave colleague Tanya Lord who in all she tried to raise about the care of her son in a mishandled post operative situation was simply given the typical responses and they were eventually discharged from care. In many ways to me her story, and the tragic and painful loss of her son, was a bold splash of our cold reality in healthcare. We must find the time for silence and to listen…in those moments we have the greatest chance to change, if not save, lives. We must also acknowledge this is about much more then the act of listening. I am sure many of the folks with whom Tanya engaged listened, they just did not hear. They too missed the art of silence. To be clear, I am not suggesting a silence in which people are not heard, but rather in creating the space in which we actually allow hearing to happen.

If we are to achieve the best in experience for all in healthcare it cannot simply be about what we say or know, the strategies we shape or the tactics we employ. At its very essence it must be about how we as humans choose to address this sacred and critical work. In all that is sacred I maintain the most transforming moments are less often found in the words and more in the silent moments and what they contain in between. If we can intentionally bring silence to our work in patient experience it may be the boldest and I dare say loudest statement of our humanity and all we strive to achieve in caring for one another. I am willing to give it a try…are you?

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

A Research Agenda for Patient Experience Excellence

penpicAs we continue our work at The Beryl Institute in moving the patient experience conversation from one at the fringes of healthcare just a few years ago to a central discussion point in healthcare globally today, we remain committed to developing a true field of practice for this work. This idea, of building a field and framing a profession, requires some fundamental cornerstones be put in place. This includes a professional community from which ideas are percolated and connections are made, a foundational and widely supported body of knowledge that drives professional alignment, a process for identifying and certifying those formal professionals in the field and a solid grounding in research from both an academic and practitioner perspective.

The community is represented by the over 35,000 of you around the world actively involved in accessing and engaging with resources of The Beryl Institute. The Body of Knowledge continues to find great value and expanding reach now through not only a conceptual framework, but also 15 full courses and the ability to achieve certificates of completion for coursework in Patient Experience Leadership and Patient Advocacy. Formal certification is now available through The Beryl Institute’s sister organization – Patient Experience Institute (PXI) – with the inaugural offering of the Certified Patient Experience Professional exam later this year. The first class of CPXPs, our profession’s pioneers, will be announced early next year. All of these efforts have been born from the contributions of hundreds of voices across our global community.

The last cornerstone builds on this idea of community contribution. It is a focus on rigorous research, and the importance of expanding the research agenda for patient experience. This has been building over the 5-year history of The Beryl Institute; first with the establishment of thePatient Experience Grant Program in June of 2010 (applications for the 2015 Grant and Scholar programs are open now), followed by the launch of the open access, peer-reviewed, Patient Experience Journal (PXJ) in April of 2014 (the next call for submissions closes January 2016), and lastly through PXI’s expanding philanthropic outreach to establish even greater support of research efforts (opportunities to donate will soon be available).

This type of reflective thinking, is seen in such government-supported programs as the groundbreaking comparative effectiveness work found at The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), whose mandate is specifically “to improve the quality and relevance of evidence available to help patients, caregivers, clinicians, employers, insurers, and policy makers make informed health decisions.” It is also seen in many of the recent efforts supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and their focus on patient and family engagement.

And while there are even other efforts taking place, I still believe we have a significant opportunity to tackle the real tangible nature of the human experience in healthcare itself. The essence of these opportunities is reflected in the patient experience grants, in recent journal articles found in PXJ and elsewhere. When I look to the definition of patient experience itself and the simple, yet intricate nature of the key concepts such as interactions, organization culture, perceptions and cross continuum issues, all linked to outcomes and driven by safe, quality-focused, high reliability, service-driven efforts, there are incredible variables to explore at each point on the continuum of care and across all segments of the healthcare experience. This reaches from chronic illnesses to primary care encounters, long-term residential issues to rural settings or underserved populations. Underlying it all is the nature of human dignity and respect we all know is central to providing the best in healthcare overall.

To drive these ideas, we need to continue to frame, refresh and execute on a robust, thoughtful and I dare say edgy research agenda for patient experience. This is not research to just validate the usefulness of new solutions, but rigorous explorations of what practices, processes, systems, behaviors, communication styles, engagement efforts, tactics and tools not only show promise, but lead to lasting and sustained positive outcomes.

I ask you as the patient experience community what it is that we need to be asking, exploring and proving on we move forward. Are there practices you have taken for granted we could test? How can we explore key elements of the Guiding Principles for Patient Experience Excellence and determine which have the greatest impact, what that looks like and where we should focus our efforts first? How can you partner with your own vendors and resource providers to test new solutions? Or perhaps I will push you even further…how can we as a community come together to provide global insights into many other questions. Our biennial Benchmarking Study represents the kind of opportunity we have at hand to explore ideas both locally and around the world in identifying new concepts that can and should push our thinking in the realm of patient experience overall.

If we are to continue our endeavor in not just shaping, but solidifying and expanding a true field of practice and a profession that can positively influence outcomes for years to come, what questions should we be asking? What should we include in our PX research agenda? I look forward to your thoughts and commit to pulling together these ideas so we can collectively engage and continue to push the patient experience movement forward together. We now just need the right questions to ask.

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

Reframing Patient & Family Experience

experienceBWAs the experience conversation grows and more voices enter the discussion, I have come to recognize a need to reframe how we think about experience overall. In much of what I have written and shared in my talks, I have stressed an important point, that experience at its broadest point is all a patient, long-term care resident and/or family member encounters while they are engaged in our healthcare system. Critical to this idea is that, as outlined in our stand at The Beryl Institute, experience also reaches across all segments of the continuum and the spaces in between.

I raise this again now for as recently as this week I have been asked about how experience fits with quality and safety efforts or compares to patient engagement. My concern and therefore my desire to align our conversation is that many in the experience discussion have become trapped by our own warnings – that we continue to address experience from the perspective of providers rather than what the actual experience is for those in our systems.

I start by reinforcing what patient experience is not, in order to build a framework and encourage a discussion of what experience truly must be. For a long while experience was simply aligned with service or service excellence or even more simply satisfaction. For many it still is. Service in healthcare is critical, as it is the domain through which we find ourselves engaging people with dignity and respect, as one human being to another. Yet service is also not the full extent of what the users in our healthcare systems experience. It is but one piece of a complex pie inclusive of quality, safety, service, cost, outcomes and influenced by caregiver engagement, in which we must work diligently to drive integrated actions.

This leads to the question is experience engagement? There has been incredible work around the processes and tools to drive patient and family engagement and in their very creation believe our answer is provided. If engaging patients and families in care encounters is of value, which it has proven to be, this too becomes a critical practice in positively impacting experience. Engagement tools, and in similar light the concepts of patient and family, or person centered care, all provide an incredibly important set of resources for ensuring the critical positioning and involvement of patients and families as partners in their care. These ideas too then are not experience in total, but rather are central to ensuring a positive experience overall.

I continue to raise this issue for one central reason. That in all we do to ensure the best in healthcare as I note, from quality, safety and service, to driving outcomes or addressing cost, to implementing processes of engagement or person-centeredness, these ideas are OUR language inside healthcare looking out. Yet when looking from the outside in, they are all but parts of one experience.

With this mindful integration I do not suggest we eliminate all distinct efforts to drive results in these various segments of experience. In fact in order to manage the dynamic nature of healthcare today, we need to focus our work on each of these critical efforts to ensure directional progress and continuous improvement. Rather, I do suggest we MUST NOT tackle each of these efforts in isolation, or under the false pretense that they are not part of the broader experience for patients and families.

So what is the opportunity we then have in reframing patient and family experience? I believe we must:

  1. Look beyond experience as just satisfaction or service to the reality of what our patients and families see every day. We do them great disservice by simplifying this idea in a way it becomes tangential or even “soft” to the hard work we do in healthcare every day.
  2. Align and coordinate our divided efforts, and in doing so, our collective language, to reinforce a commitment to the perspective of the end user in healthcare today. We can still segment our work efforts and improvement opportunities to tackle these often complex opportunities and problems, but we cannot and must not do so to the detriment of providing a coordinated and comprehensive experience.
  3. Work together to address experience from the broadest perspective across and at all touch points and the moments of truth we create clinically, interpersonally, virtually, etc. and include the voices of those we care for and serve to ensure an integrated and experience focused effort overall.

Yes we must focus on the basics – the blocking and tacking of what impacts experience everyday on the front lines of care, at points of transition and in the many seams we have created in between, but if we lose perspective on the broader opportunity, our smaller steps may not help us realize our greater goal. If we are committed to providing the best in experience for all in our healthcare systems – quality, safe, service-oriented, cost efficient, outcomes driven, inclusive, coordinated and compassionate – like I know most in healthcare are, then we still have great opportunities ahead. I challenge us to think about reframing our view of experience. In doing so I believe we will identify and achieve all we know is truly possible for all those touched by healthcare every day.

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

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

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

The Conversation on Patient Experience Improvement Continues: A Reflection on Three Years

Most people would suggest that change doesn’t happen overnight, and while I believe change does take time, it does not need to take a lot of time. In fact, change, like most things in life, requires nothing more complicated than a simple choice. It is this same idea – the power of choice – that I use to frame all my discussions on patient experience improvement.

I share this idea of choice and change on the week that The Beryl Institute itself turns three years old. As we have seen the patient experience movement grow and flourish, it too has been a journey of change and choice. From the very first member signing on in September 2010, to the now over 18,000 members and guests from 45 countries around the world, The Beryl Institute community has made big choices and as a result driven big change.
Over the course of the last few years I have written about engagement, involvement and community and I am excited to say that the state of The Beryl Institute community is strong. We have seen a growing use of thedefinition of patient experience. We have also experienced almost a doubling in organizations having a formal definition of patient experience (something we stress as critical) as revealed in the 2013 State of Patient Experience study and represented in the recent powerful infographic of the findings. We have also been inspired by the growing “#IMPX” movement with increasing numbers of organizations creating compelling videos of their teams reinforcing the message – “I am the Patient Experience”!

At the Institute, we have also worked hard to ensure all voices are engaged in the conversation on patient experience improvement. We have authored an extensive series of publications to be a resource to all those working to impact the patient experience – from the C-Suiteto the front lines from students to patient and family members. This effort has been expanded by the launch of the first of its kind Global Patient and Family Advisory Council to ensure this critical perspective is central to all we do. It has been supported by not only our virtual community connections, but also the consistently growing annual Patient Experience Conference providing practitioners the space to reconnect and reenergize every year.

In shaping the knowledge and information base for patient experience improvement, we have led the effort to create a comprehensive body of knowledge focused on developing patient experience leadership now and into the future and guided by the input of over 400 healthcare leaders around the world. We have also awarded over 25 patient experience grants to support direct research projects on patient experience improvement where it is taking place – on the front lines. Most recently we have announced the launch of The Patient Experience Journal, a multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed publication designed to share ideas and research, and reinforce key concepts that impact the experience of patients and families across healthcare settings.

The full history of the Institute is rich, but more importantly it exemplifies the very power of choice and of community I mention above. It was the choices of so many that made these offerings and resources possible. It will be the continued contributions of community members that will maintain this growth and drive the patient experience movement forward. These choices have led to great change and our hope is to continue to support this growth by providing a gathering place for ideas, a dynamic space for interaction and a vibrant hub for continued dialogue on patient experience improvement. We have arrived at this point with the guidance, leadership and support of so many around the globe…for this we are forever grateful. We now humbly go forth knowing there is much more work left to do. Happy Anniversary to you, this passionate and engaged community. We celebrate how far we have come together and look forward to continuing this journey with you!

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

Involvement is the Path to Patient Experience Excellence

InvolvementBlogThe words of the day in healthcare of late, especially in light of the policy undertones influencing the system in the U.S., are around engagement and activation, especially of patients, but also focused on staff, physicians and community. Studies show that activated patients are more apt to have greater patient experiences (When Seeing the Same Physician, Highly Activated Patients Have Better Care Experiences Than Less Activated Patients, Health Affairs, July 2013 32(7):1295–1305) and the e-patient revolution is well underway as exemplified by such organizations as the Society for Participatory MedicinePapers espouse the power of staff engagement as the means to better experience (The Role of Organization Culture in a Positive Patient Experience, The Beryl Institute, 2012) and community engagement is reflected by growing involvement in strategic efforts such as what I experienced at the William Osler Health System in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

While these ideas are external efforts that influence specific organizational strategies and associated actions, I was struck with the recognition this too is what we have worked to model via The Beryl Institute ourselves. As a global community of practice, we have been clear in declaring a mission to create a dynamic space for members to convene, engage and contribute to elevating, expanding and enriching the global dialogue on improving the patient experience.

In just the last two weeks we held the very first call for our Global Patient and Family Advisory Council (GPFAC), an incredible group of patients and family members committed to serving in ensuring patient and family voice is part of the patient experience movement. Their generosity of spirit and commitment to this cause left me inspired and excited for all we still have to do in our efforts to improve experience. We also met with our Patient Experience Advisory Board for their quarterly call to review our direction and strategy as an Institute and ensure we are meeting the needs of those on the front lines addressing the patient experience every day. In that conversation I was moved by the excitement and commitment to the movement we all support. It is through the generosity and spirit of these two groups, and also the continued contributions of members and guests via On the Road visits, sharing case studies, and through a record number of Patient Experience Conference speaking submissions, as just a few examples, that the sense of involvement was palpable.

Involvement, you could argue is a play on all these words: engaged, activated or even participatory. I do not want to play the semantics game, but for sake of discussion, one can be engaged or even “activated” without a true bias for action, they can simply serve as states of “being”, not doing. Perhaps this is why the Gallup Organization uses the term “actively engaged” to reinforce their measures of a highly engaged workforce. Participation, more so, suggests action, as it requires the individual to be doing something. Involvement continues to expand that reason, from one of a state of being to one of acting. In fact one definition of involvement I saw encompassed these very terms (parenthetical comments are my own): to engage (an action) as a participant (an active contributor).

The takeaway for me here is simple, as we have seen in countless organizational visits, cases and presentations, as we have uncovered in research efforts and benchmarking studies and perhaps most importantly what we have experienced in our very organization is that not only does involvement matter, it has significant influence on what can be achieved, how it is achieved and how quickly it can be achieved. An unassuming word on its own, involvement, may provide a profoundly important key to success in a healthcare world now intently focused on the improvement of the experience of all, patients, family members, community and caregivers. I believe that involvement is a fundamental component of any path to patient experience success. The question that now remains is how involved are you in your efforts and how willing are you to involve others in your success? I also strongly invite you to get involved in the patient experience movement and The Beryl Institute. We all still have significant and exciting work ahead!

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

 

Why Community Matters in Improving Patient Experience

CommunityBlogThey 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.
President
The Beryl Institute