Why It Matters
“Health systems are too often working on patient experience in isolation, separate from other organizational strategic aims.”
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Trying to Improve Patient Experience? Don't Chase “Random Acts of Goodness”

By Joshua Eng | Friday, August 31, 2018

Aug 31 blog   Photo by Leo Rivas | Unsplash

Improving patient experience is a complex process that is often approached in a less than systematic way. According to Barbara Balik, RN, EdD, IHI Senior Faculty, health care professionals often “chase random acts of goodness,” seeking to replicate their peers’ successful initiatives without understanding how those activities are embedded in a larger system.

During the August 9 WIHI audio program, Balik and two other experts — IHI faculty Kristine White, MBA, RN, and MemorialCare Chief Transformation Officer Helen Macfie, PharmD, FABC — noted that health systems are too often working on patient experience in isolation, separate from other organizational strategic aims. They shared insights about how to develop a more effective system to improve patient experience.

Defining Patient Experience and Establishing Purpose

According to Balik, organizations typically lack a clear definition of patient experience. They may think they know what it means but may have only focused on measurement. Balik suggested that organizations describe patient experience in patients’ own words rather than solely through the perspective of care providers.

Organizations should also examine their purpose for improving patient experience. White proposed that providers engage in honest conversations about their goals. “Is [analyzing and using experience data] about reputation, marketing, and [planning]? Or is it about understanding data sources and utilizing them to achieve the best care, the best outcomes, and the best place to work?” Prioritizing patients, White argues, is essential for yielding the best results for both patients and staff.

Understanding What Matters to Patients

Improving patient experience requires more than utilizing data strategically. Balik noted that patient experience is often viewed through the eyes of providers rather than those of patients. She suggested that providers instead consider what matters to patients, paying particular attention to the emotional component of their health care experience.

Macfie found that asking MemorialCare patients what they considered most important revealed the need for effective communication. Data showed that listening and conveying concern were far more important to patients than maintaining best practices and short wait times.

Focus groups can be particularly useful for gaining insights into patient concerns. Macfie discovered that enlisting skilled facilitators who were not medical personnel, such as a marketing team, can yield more transparent responses from patients. Analysis of key takeaways is often most accurate when focus groups are segmented by demographic factors. Segmenting groups allows providers to understand the nuances in the data and inhibits an assumption that everyone shares the same opinions.

The Connection Between Patient and Staff Experience

When carrying out urgent responsibilities, staff can miss the connection between their experiences and those of patients. Providers can underestimate patients’ ability to sense when staff are experiencing burnout. To quote Maureen Bisognano, IHI President Emerita and Senior Fellow, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”

According to Macfie, an employee who is physically and mentally healthy is more likely to build a strong rapport with patients and their families. Initiatives that encourage the well-being of staff and empower them to solve problems can reduce burnout and create an environment in which patients feel cared for and understood.

Joshua Eng is a Multimedia Project Assistant at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

To learn more about how to improve patient experience, listen to or download a recording of the August 9 WIHI: Connecting Patient Experience to Culture and Strategic Aims broadcast from the IHI website or iTunes.

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