There is truly no shortage of tactics an organization can train for, implement, and enforce in an effort to improve the patient experience and, ultimately, its HCAHPS scores. But the “secret sauce” in an effective and engaged workforce happens when there is a strong connection between the head, heart, and hands.
The head part of the equation is knowing what it is that needs to be done. The hands portion is knowing how to do the task. But the engagement and the real connection happens at the level of the heart—where the individual sees an action not just as a task that is expected of them but rather as an integral part of the patient experience.
The real distinction between completing a task and being engaged in the patient experience has come to light over and over again as we review our medical mystery shopping reports from inpatient units across the country. I could cite numerous examples but for simplicity’s sake I’ll use whiteboards as my case in point.
Whiteboards have become an industry norm as a means to keep patients informed and at the center of the care plan. What started as a highly desirable and effective method to support communication, whiteboards, in many situations, have deteriorated to another item on nurses’ task lists. And it shows. Time after time as our mystery shoppers sit with patients, they observe nurses entering rooms and scribbling their names on a board without making any type of connection with the patient, such as, “My name is Kris. I’m your nurse and I’ll be here until seven tonight. I’m putting my name up here so you can remember who your nurse is and who to ask for if you need anything.”
We’ve witnessed nurses writing “NPO” on the board and leaving without explanation. Why bother? The patient has no idea what that abbreviation means. It’s done because it is a task that is expected. They are completing the board because their manager may make rounds and will notice if the task has not been completed. Or they view the task as a reminder to other staff, which is also a benefit of the whiteboards; but this detachment from the patient is a missed opportunity.
The real difference between filling in the whiteboard because it’s an expected task versus completing it as a method to keep the patient informed, engaged, and empowered is like day and night. In the latter, the nurse knows and understands the importance of the task and wants to make a difference in the patient experience.
The best way to connect the head, heart, and hands is to review how each task will impact the patient experience. How will the patient see what is happening? Will it be scary or reassuring? Will it be mechanical or inclusive? You’ve heard the expression “Walk a mile in your shoes.” How about replacing that with “Get out of your head and into the bed”? In other words, stop thinking about the task in terms of what and how and, instead, see through the eyes of the patient and explain the why with empathy.