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4 No-Brainer Ways to Improve Patient Experience

by Michael Ganeles

4 No-Brainer Ways to Improve Patient ExperienceMy wife and I learned that she was pregnant with our first child in November 2010. We were filled with joy, but we were also a bit anxious about the unfamiliar path on which we were about to embark. The first big parenting decision we had in front of us was which OB to choose. This was ultimately my wife’s decision to make but she asked for my input. As we discussed the various options, it became very clear that we each valued something different. I valued clinical knowledge and expertise above all, while my wife wanted to make sure we chose someone who was approachable and had a good bedside manner.

So, what did we decide and how did it turn out? I’ll come back to that after I bore you a bit with a few perspectives on patient experience.

The link between patient experience and health outcomes

For over a decade, healthcare providers have made patient experience a key priority for their organizations—for good reason. In addition to the linkage between positive patient experience and better health outcomes, patient experience also impacts the bottom line as reimbursement is tied to HCAHPS scores (the patient satisfaction survey required for all U.S. hospitals). Looking ahead, we’re likely to see patient experience only increase in importance as patients become better informed consumers.

In a recent survey, almost 80 percent of practitioners expected that, by 2021, patients will compare hospital patient experience ratings before deciding where to go. Additionally, as healthcare organizations continue to focus on population health, the ability to truly engage the patient will significantly impact whether an organization will be able to successfully execute on its population health strategies.

A work in progress

So, how are healthcare providers doing when it comes to improving patient experience? Let’s just call it a work in progress. In a 2018 Black Book survey, 92 percent of healthcare consumers said that improving the patient experience should be a top strategic priority for medical providers over the next 12 months.

While there are many different factors that impact the patient experience (e.g., technology, facilities, interdepartmental communication, rounding by clinical team members), perhaps the biggest of all is an organization’s talent. They say that the people make the place, and that mantra is particularly true for healthcare providers. Think about your own experiences. When you or a family member have had a positive experience at a hospital or clinic, what made it a positive experience? I’m guessing you’re more likely to be raving about the patient care technicians, nurses, or physicians you interacted with than the medical devices they used or the size of the TV in the room or waiting area.

But what do patients really want out of their interactions with staff?

According to a recent study conducted by the Beryl Institute, the three most important factors influencing a patient’s experience are 1) being listened to, 2) being communicated to in a way they can understand, and 3) being treated with dignity and respect.

Surprised that the top-three factors all relate to how patients are being treated by the staff they interact with? You shouldn’t be. When a patient is visiting a hospital or clinic, most of the time they’re outside of their comfort zone and many find themselves in the most vulnerable state they’ve ever been in. It’s only normal they fall back to the most basic needs of all—the strong desire to have their personal needs met.

4 steps to a patient-centric talent strategy

While there’s no silver bullet to ensuring patients are getting the best experience they can, here are 4 key steps every organization can take to make their talent strategy more patient-centric:

1. Develop clearly defined behavioral expectations. While many healthcare organizations have competency models, few are defined clearly enough to provide staff with the specific behaviors expected of them. For example, while compassion and empathy are hot topics, merely stating, “Treat patients with compassion and empathy,” doesn’t tell employees how they can demonstrate compassion and empathy. It leaves things open to interpretation, and we all know people with a distorted view of what constitutes compassion and empathy. Look at your competency model through the eyes of your patients. Does it adequately capture the behaviors they expect to see from your staff?

2. Think beyond the patient’s practical needs. Every patient has two basic types of needs—practical needs and personal needs. Practical needs are the reasons why patients come to you in the first place—for medical expertise, specialized knowledge, treatment, or assistance. Personal needs, meanwhile, relate to the need for people to be valued and respected as individuals. Today, many healthcare organizations are recruiting talent from the retail and hospitality industries to bring service orientation into the organization. But when you really think about the types of needs that these folks typically address, those needs fall more on the practical side. The hotel guest isn’t as vulnerable as the patient or patient’s family members, and perhaps comes with fewer personal needs and more practical needs. It’s important to educate staff around the criticality of meeting personal needs. If they want to work in healthcare, just solving a patient’s problems isn’t enough.

3. Provide service training that offers practical guidance and includes behavior modeling. Most healthcare organizations provide some sort of service training to employees. But how effective is this training? Is the training designed in a way that supports immediate application back on the job? If your training is focused on why exceptional service is important, and has more of a conceptual/inspirational vibe, then it might be falling short of its goal. Healthcare professionals are accustomed to having processes for everything, so having a way to tap into that process orientation and provide a set of steps or processes that staff can use to meet a patients’ personal and practical needs can go a long way. Additionally, since we’re really talking about behavior change, it’s insufficient to just tell people what they need to do. You need to provide examples of what “good” looks like and give people the opportunity to skill practice.

4. Get your leaders to focus on meeting the personal and practical needs of the workforce. This concept is not exclusive to patients. Everyone has personal and practical needs, and if leadership expects staff to meet both categories of their patients’ needs, then they need to model those behaviors. If leaders maintain and enhance the self-esteem of staff, listen and respond with empathy, and involve them in decisions that impact them, they’re setting the tone for employees to treat their patients in a similar fashion.

Reputation isn’t everything—as we learned

Let’s get back to the story. In the end, my wife and I agreed to choose a physician who had a very positive reputation—someone who was strong clinically and never missed a birth.

But while we ended up with a healthy baby and mom, our patient experience was awful. The physician disempowered my wife and yelled at her and the staff during labor. And to top it all off, after my son was born, rather than congratulate my wife and commend her for the hard work she did during the labor process, the physician took all of the credit: A perfect example of meeting our practical needs but falling far short in meeting our most basic personal needs—it was a physician-centric birth.

Not surprisingly, for our next child, we switched to a hospital that had far inferior facilities but a staff that clearly cared about our personal needs.

Learn more about DDI’s healthcare practice and our solutions across the continuum of care.

Michael Ganeles is the Practice Leader for DDI’s healthcare practice. When he’s not helping healthcare organizations with their talent initiatives, he receives stretch assignments from his wife and children, who are always willing to provide developmental feedback. A native New Yorker, you’ll find Michael rooting for the New York Mets, Rangers, Giants, and Knicks, which continually helps to eradicate his fear of failure. Send your comments, sports trash talk, and questions to

Posted: 12 Dec, 2018,
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