Everywhere I go, people are talking about improving the patient experience. But in order to make that a reality, we need to have a clear definition of what constitutes the experience. I recently read a press release from the Beryl Institute that shares an excellent definition of the patient experience. They define it as,
Patient Experience: The sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across a continuum of care.
The key to this definition, and what I hope will resonate with healthcare leaders and frontline staff everywhere, are three words: sum, perceptions, and continuum. The truth is that most of us who work in healthcare are just too close to our own slice of the continuum that we forget to consider the whole of the experience. Let me break it down.
Sum: When we mystery shop for healthcare organizations, we delve into all of the pieces that add up to the patient’s final judgment. Was it the frustration over limited parking or the fact that there was no waiting for their appointment that had the most influence on the overall impression? Was it complete relief of annoying symptoms or an abrupt dismissive physician that shaped their willingness to recommend? Was it the sketchy discharge instructions or the prompt, reassuring phone call when they got home that shaped their confidence in the organization? We know it is the sum that matters. And the patient gets to decide which of the single elements is weighted most heavily.
Perceptions: Perception is reality. There is nothing else when it comes to the patient experience. We can document clinical outcomes to demonstrate quality, but, in this era of consumer-driven healthcare, the patient is in the driver’s seat. So their perceptions are all that matter. It is what they will discuss, what they will remember, and what will determine if they ever connect with your organization again.
Continuum: We’ve known for a long time that healthcare is silo’d. We talk about it, but very few organizations have mastered the art of breaking down the silos to create a consistently positive patient experience across the entire continuum. Patients need help in navigating through the often-confusing information about providers, resources, and even their symptoms. They need prompt, efficient, and welcoming access to services. All of this happens before they come in physical contact with the organization that actually delivers the medical service. Once the care is delivered, patients leave us with questions, worries, or, worse yet, new symptoms. Even after (or perhaps especially after) leaving the hospital, patients want information and need reassurance.
Healthcare has traditionally centered all the attention on the delivery phase and we have slighted the importance of all the other elements of the continuum. What I appreciate about this definition is that it sheds light on the service as the patient sees it. Now that we’ve defined it, let’s make it great!