Healthcare organizations benefit from a wealth of quantitative data measuring everything from clinical and safety performance to patient experience. But it seems those who perform the best in the patient experience realm are those that place high value on qualitative research as well. They delve into the individual stories that can shed more light on opportunities for improvement.
It’s not unusual for people to confuse qualitative and quantitative research. Quantitative research, such as your patient satisfaction survey results (including HCAHPS) tell you how many people responded to specific questions in a certain way. You seek to have a sample size that represents the population studied. In this case, you can calculate statistical significance. Qualitative research delves deeper into how the individual felt about the experience and what specifically influences their overall impression and willingness to recommend.
It’s not uncommon for well-meaning leaders to look at a mystery shopping report with detailed quotes describing specific encounters in depth, only to ask if the data is statistically significant. No, it’s not. But that doesn’t diminish the importance. One story with detailed descriptions can answer a multitude of questions about WHY your patients are scoring you a certain way on surveys.
For example, take this ED that scores below average on nurse communication and physician communication yet doesn’t know why. But what if they had the following story from a patient that could shed light on the experience? They’d know in greater detail what needs to change. For example:
A few months ago, my niece suffered a miscarriage. Her dreams about her first baby were squashed when the ED nurse told her she was probably miscarrying. When she described her story to me, I was saddened, not just by her loss, but by the lack of compassion shown by everyone she encountered. The news was delivered in a matter-of-fact manner that left her stunned, shaken and alone. After receiving the news, my niece was left alone in an exam room for over 45 minutes. She was told that no one was available to speak with her. No one checked on her, no one told her she could get dressed and go, no one offered condolences. Nothing. When someone finally entered the room, they were shocked to see her still sitting there. “Oh, I thought you knew we were done here,” said the housekeeper who was about to turn over the room.
My niece was clearly emotional and asked to see the doctor. Instead they told her to go home and someone would call. After five hours of waiting, a PA called to confirm that there was no heartbeat and that she was miscarrying. Sad and confused, she asked what she was supposed to do. He told her to go about her normal activities and she’d “pass it.” He provided clinical information but without an ounce of compassion or empathy for her situation. The story goes on with a series of additional poor encounters but I’ll leave it here.
Is my niece’s story statistically significant? No, but it is significant. It matters to her, to her husband and to all of us who know and lover. When she shared her story with her friends (all of whom are child-bearing age) she began creating an “experience ripple” which can influence their decisions. As for my niece, she subsequently left that entire health system to pursue services with another.
One person with one story may not be statistically significant, but it is still significant.