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

Loyalty – The True Reward for Unparalleled Patient Experience

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Healthcare Experience Design. This is an incredibly important part of the work in providing a positive patient experience. In fact, experience design has been identified as one of the fourteen core domains in the Patient Experience Body of Knowledge (Have you provided your input yet?). The element of design focuses on possibility, not problems. I believe we need to ensure patient experience overall has that same intention.

The well-known design firm IDEO reinforces these principles in the way they work with partner organizations. They describe this as design thinking, “a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices.” This is a powerful statement in that patient experience in many ways is just that, the ability to move beyond problems to something more meaningful, and beyond standard processes, to those that have real and lasting impact. In this shift from a problem solving to a design mindset, the potential power of a positive patient experience is unleashed.

This idea was reinforced by Gary Hirshberg, President and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm, who talked about the potential intersection of design and business function. He shared that while some organizations manage their priorities to reduce production costs and then direct significant dollars towards promotion and advertising, there is another opportunity. If we invest in our products and services to ensure the greatest quality experience, we can change the equation. This shift in focus is from one of awareness through advertising to one of attraction and engagement through loyalty. Hirshberg reinforced that you get to loyalty by doing what is right for your consumer, not by telling them how great you are. As I listened to this argument in the consumer product world, I found myself thinking about how this applies to healthcare.

In an era where patients and family members are becoming more consumer-savvy and the system is set up to provide for greater ways to actually comparison shop in the healthcare marketplace, how has healthcare responded? Have efforts in healthcare focused on awareness through advertising and promotion or have opportunities for loyalty been created and sustained? Has a system been built based on solving the problem of driving healthcare volume or has the industry shifted to the thoughts of possibility in designing for an unparalleled experience?

It is clear in healthcare reputation carries great weight, but how that reputation is presented also has an impact.  Advertisements for awards, recognitions or even wait times can only carry an organization so far. They are the perceived, not lived experience. Rather it is in designing and enacting the actual experience through which reputation is solidified and loyalty gained. This suggests the importance of investing in what it takes to ensure the best patient experience versus simply the messages to convey value. In doing so the conversation shifts from awareness which will need to reinforced again and again via the next print ad, billboard or TV spot, to that of experience that will reach well beyond the walls of a facility or practice, through the words of those that have walked your halls, engaged with your staff and had the chance to be impacted by the experience overall. Loyalty does come by doing right. This is making the right investments in your overall patient experience. In doing so you move beyond solving the problems for your organization and instead reinforce what is possible for your patients, their families and your team.

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

The Power of Interaction: You are the Patient Experience

In looking back at 2011, I have touched on a cross-section of topics on the patient experience – from service excellence and anticipation to value-based purchasing and bottom line impact. This year has led us to heightened awareness of the impact performance scores will have on dollars realized and increasing recognition that the patient experience is a priority with staying power. The Beryl Institute’s benchmarking study, The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals, revealed both the great intentions and significant challenges that are at hand in addressing the critical issue of patient experience.

Our research supports, and I fundamentally believe, that there is a need for a dedicated and focused patient experience leader in every healthcare organization. Yet in the midst of all this attention, we may have overlooked the most important component – the immense power, significant impact and immeasurable value of a single interaction.

What does this mean? Interaction is simply defined as a mutual or reciprocal action or influence. The key is mutual action; something that occurs directly between two individuals. No interaction is the same, but it requires a choice by both parties to engage and respond as they best see fit. In healthcare settings, be it hospitals, medical offices, surgery centers or outpatient clinics, there are countless interactions every day. The question is: are they taken for granted as situations that just occur or are they seen as significant opportunities to impact experience? Perhaps in thinking about experience as a bigger issue, the importance of these moments of personal relationship has been missed.

What this means for improving the patient experience may be simple. Rather than waiting for that one leader to build the right plan or for your culture to develop in just the right way, you each instead recognize one key fact – you are the patient experience. I acknowledge there is a need for a strong leader and a solid cultural foundation on which to build, but at its core patient experience is about what each and every individual chooses to do at the most intimate moment of interaction. If these moments are used as the building blocks to achieve our greatest of intentions, patient experience will be the better for it. As you look to next year, whether you sweep the floors or sit in the c-suite, the choice should be clear. In today’s chaotic world of healthcare, the greatest moment of impact may be in the smallest of encounters. It is here that the most significant successes be they for scores, dollars or care will be realized. Happy holidays to you all!

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

Service Recovery Should be the Exception, Not the Rule…Consider Service Anticipation

“Mind the Gap” is a phrase most often associated with the Tube in London. I hadn’t thought about it before, but in fact these famous words help frame the overall service experience. They remind us to be aware during this critical part of our journey and help us recognize that someone else is being mindful of our experience as well. This raises the question, why do we focus so much of our time on service recovery when we could be focusing on ensuring the best experience from the start? Minding the gap should be about our ability to anticipate our customer’s experience prior to it taking place at all.

This past weekend I passed a sign hanging on a lamppost posted by the city of Edinburgh that immediately caught my eye. It read “We are aware this light is faulty and are working to repair it as soon as possible.” It then provided contact information for further questions. Through the use of a simple yellow sign, a service experience was framed. Here too, it was clear someone was being mindful of the experience.

What do these examples show us? They reinforce the opportunity we have in creating positive patient experiences by anticipating the needs of our patients.

My current On the Road visit is with Inspiration NW, a part of NHS North West in the United Kingdom whose focus is on raising the profile and importance of patient experience (story to be published in the September Patient Experience Monthly). This incredible team has been working on the very issue of actively anticipating patient’s needs versus always reacting to them. One powerful tool they have introduced is Care Cards. Care Cards support patients and their relatives in exploring how the emotional needs and care preferences of patients can best be captured, monitored and addressed in real time as part of a quality-led care experience. The process reduces the sense of anxiousness patients bring to the care setting and ensures a stronger and more proactive approach to addressing a patient’s overall experience. This too serves as an example of anticipating needs, a “mind the gap” moment.

Even with anticipation, there will still be times where service recovery is necessary. The key is to make this the exception, not the rule.  I myself have been guilty of espousing giving staff members the freedom to act in addressing service recovery issues without pushing for another freedom; the freedom to act in anticipation of patient needs. If service recovery is about restoring trust and confidence in the ability of an organization to “get it right”, service anticipation is about creating moments where people are wowed by our transparency and understanding of needs and know we will do right for them from the start. By being in action well before recovery is needed we can mind the gaps in service that may arise, instead providing winning moments that ensure a lasting and positive service experience.

Where have you seen or implemented service anticipation? I look forward to seeing your examples.

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