Anyone who works in healthcare knows that patients are the purpose of our work. We talk a lot about being patient-centered, but few organizations have mastered the art and science of creating and maintaining a truly patient-centered culture. Many of our processes and policies were created by and for staff and providers. The upshot of which is often a frustrating, difficult-to-navigate experience that leaves patients wondering if they are really any more than a number on a medical record. It’s time to re-examine how we do things, and determine what needs to change in order to become more patient-centered and user-friendly. To change old habits, we first must be willing to take an honest look at ourselves and learn to see the world through our patients’ eyes.
To create a consistently positive patient experience, we need to examine every facet of the encounter from phone contacts, parking, and wayfinding to communication and compassion. There are environmental components to consider, such as cleanliness, signage, furniture, and parking. There are emotional elements to the encounter, including feeling welcome, secure, cared about, and understood. There are communication components, including staff interactions, being included in the care plan, and learning what they need to know about their condition and treatment.
Virtually everything about an encounter speaks. And if everything speaks, what are you saying? Patients take only seconds to determine if you are what you say you are. It’s not enough to be clinically competent; we need to create an environment where patients can feel confident and positive about the experience. Confident that they can get where they need to be. Confident the environment is clean and safe. Confident that they will be able to get help when they need it. Confident that people truly care about their comfort. Confident that they will get the information that they need to feel more reassured about their condition and prepared to care for themselves once discharged. Confident that they will be included in decisions. Our patients deserve to have confidence in their healthcare encounters. The good thing is that we can take steps to improve the patient experience and raise the level of confidence.
One of the things that I enjoy about our work is the opportunity to help our clients understand and improve the patient experience. Our mystery shoppers spot situations and behaviors during encounters that create positive or negative patient experiences. They mine out exactly what makes an experience positive or negative by describing specific circumstances and then sharing their reactions, feelings, and interpretations of the situation. By doing so, they help us see through the patients’ eyes. They paint a picture of the experience that moves the information from the head to the heart.
It is my hope that 2010 will be the year of the patient experience. A time when healthcare leaders will embrace every opportunity to raise patient trust and confidence in our organizations. There is a lot that we don’t know about the future of health care. But what we do know is that every day we can choose to create better patient experiences by listening, learning, and being open to change.