As noted in a previous post, “patient experience” has become a new buzzword in healthcare. It is also showing indications of becoming a new industry. Here are some examples:
There is an Association for Patient Experience, a nonprofit open to “any healthcare provider or representative who impacts the patient experience” (apparently that does not include patients). From their website, one can learn “the business case for patient centeredness,” how patient centered improves HCAPHS scores, why employee engagement is key to patient satisfaction, and other such things. All very true, though one may wonder why it took an APE to promote them.
A search on “patient experience” on Indeed.com produces over 3,200 jobs – directors, coordinators, specialists, advisors and so on. A Google search on “patient experience” + webinar gets 79,600 hits. A similar search on “patient experience” + consultant generates over a million. One consulting firm that has entered this area is the Disney Institute.
A patient might read all this and think, “Wow – everyone is so concerned to make things better for me” (though on second thought doubts might arise about all the expense). But a healthcare work might ponder it all and say, “Wow – everyone is trying to take my job away” (somehow all those experts and consultants have to be paid for and cutting other staff might be the means).
After all, whose job is it to provide for a good patient experience? To answer, just take as a thought experience the point made by one APE writer: how does it look it look from viewpoint of the patient in the bed? Clearly, those who see and talk to the patients are the chief influencers.
Although numerous studies have been made, it is easy to see that nurses are number one in this respect and doctors a close number two. Attendants of various sorts are also important. Of course there are many other actual and potential role players who impact the patient experience: technicians, relatives and visitors, chaplains, researches, lawyers, insurance agents – even patient advocates. But, while the overall picture is very complex, the paramount importance of nurses and doctors is patently – and “patiently” – obvious.
So, if there is concern for good patient experience, why isn’t the remedy to train and manage doctors and nurses on patient communication? Actually, the HealthLeaders Media 2012 report on “Patient Experience and HCAHPS” says that 96 percent of the health care leaders who were surveyed believed that training is an important part of efforts to improve patient satisfaction (unfortunately, the report does not indicate how much of that belief has been translated into practice).
Endeavors to improve patient experience may be laudable. (Still, if the idea is just to improve scores, then one might predict the same unintended negative effects as occur in education reform measures undertaken primarily to raise test scores.)
But almost all organizational change efforts fail and the primary reason is that employees are not involved in the design of such efforts and hence don’t “buy in”. For successful improvement in patient satisfaction, then, why not put the issue to nurses and doctors and at least be guided by their reaction – even before the consultants are called in.
It’s really the nurses and doctors who will most determine whether patient experience efforts really succeed or not. And even if others are involved, the plans won’t succeed if they don’t support them. If, say, communication training is so important, first check whether the doctors and nurses see it that way, because training never works if those being trained are not motivated to it.
HealthLeaders Media says that “sparking employee engagement can elevate patient satisfaction”. So engage nurses and doctors in deciding whether consultants, training or something else is needed and what kind of consultants, training or other resources should be obtained. And, yes, ask patients, too!