Have you ever wished that you could be a mind reader? Well, without that power, we mere mortals have to look to other sources of information. When it comes to understanding the patient experience, surveys and in-depth research provide us with a plethora of data, but may, at the same time, leave us overwhelmed and confused about the implications. It’s important to bear in mind that health care is truly a human service.
Face-to-face interaction and dialogue coupled with hard data are the perfect blend for understanding our customers and learning what we can do to improve service.
That is precisely why I am a big advocate of adding qualitative research to gain greater understanding of the patient experience.
While survey data sheds light on the number of patients who grade your service a certain way, it doesn’t always explain why they rated you as they did. Adding mystery shopping, interviews, or focus groups to your research plan is a great way to drill down into the emotions behind the scores. A few months ago, we were asked to mystery shop a hospital unit that was scoring poorly on nurse communication. Through ethnography (direct observation of care) combined with patient interviews, we were able to share examples of things that most influenced the patient experience. In one situation, we observed that the nurse positioned the computer in a way that blocked his line of sight to the patient. The patient later described the nurse as impersonal and focused more on the computer than him. He told us, “It made me feel insignificant.”
In another example, the nurses were expected to scan the patient wrist band to document hourly rounds. We observed nurses scanning the band without any meaningful interaction. When asked what she thought of the encounter, the patient stated, “She scanned me like a loaf of bread at the market. I’m just a thing with a bar code.”
In both these examples, we were able to drill down into the actual experience to identify specific nurse behaviors and the patients’ emotional responses. If you are baffled by patient satisfaction scores, try adding mystery shopping to drill deeper. The combination is powerful and will move the data from the head to the heart.