Since the publication of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report from the Committee on the Quality Healthcare in America in March 2001, an increasing trend in patient-centered care has emerged in many areas of healthcare. As a result of this, patient satisfaction has become a key quality indicator. Many healthcare organizations have begun to conduct patient satisfaction surveys and use the data from these surveys to develop metrics and key drivers for service. The annual Patient Experience Summit at Cleveland Clinic, 4-day conference where key stakeholders from around the country gather to exchange stories of success and strategies for better delivery of healthcare services to patients, is where this all comes together.
This year’s Patient Experience Empathy and Innovation Summit was held on May 17-20 at the Cleveland Convention Center. The theme of this conference was “empathy amplified’. Over the last few years, the conference theme of “service excellence” has slowly transformed to “patient experience”. The tone of the conference was also a bit different this year. The new buzzword now seems to be “relationship experience”. A majority of the presentations were not focusing on providing great service to patients and getting good satisfaction scores. Instead, the focus was on building a relationship with the patient during their visit through empathy. Instead of the “I understand” mentally, One would focus on “Although I might not be able to understand the reason that you are here, and what is really on your mind, I can try to imagine what it might be like for you, and I can try to imagine what it would be like to be in your shoes”.
A great deal was also presented on the various technologies that have been brought to the market in the patient experience arena, including mobile apps and wearable devices. Most of these technology solutions are not accessed or used by patients, because they are not part of their native workflow. For example, more than 50% of the healthcare apps have never been downloaded, and the top 5 healthcare apps account for more than 15% of all downloads. Technology becomes meaningful through user interface. Technology solution should be seamless and available on the fly. It should either solve an important problem or be something a patient cannot do without.
Another area of focus was on large data collected on patient experience and how to interpret this data. One presentation mentioned that more than 90% of all data was generated in the past 2 years. Most of this data is never interpreted (dark data). The challenge with collecting big data is to understand which small fraction of this data is actually useful and can help solve a problem. Another challenge with big data is that it tends to control behavior and trends. It is more of a snap shot rather than a panorama when it is applied to patient and provider experience. Someone needs to translate data into insight. Focus on quality and the data will follow. Patients are driven by instincts not data and metrics.
Another major focus of the conference was on staff and employee engagement. This seems to be an area that has received the least amount of attention. In the service driven healthcare industry, the focus is on making the consumer (patient) happy. One important relationship that is overlooked is that staff satisfaction with their job is a key driver for patient experience. More emphasis should be placed on celebrating staff and employees and providing meaningful recognition. This may be in real-time or structured activities, and it may be monetary or another lasting impression. People are your greatest assets. You get a vibe of the culture based on how people treat one another. When employees are disengaged and unhappy, the tension is palpable. An important strategy to follow is to get people engaged in the culture. Great leaders inspire people to reach their full potential. If you take care of your staff and appreciate them they will provide great care. Empowering your staff is 90% of the battle with patient experience. Give your staff the tools to succeed. Imagine the difference in being an expert (static) and having expertise provided to you (dynamic).
As mentioned earlier, a discussion on empathy was center stage at this conference. Most importantly, this was presented as empathy for your providers, your staff, and your patient as a 360. Focus on providing value, rather than volume. Focus should also be on teaching communication as a key skill. Effective communication requires you to listen, reflect, and share. Each interaction is an opportunity to build a relationship. The Cleveland Clinic also has developed a mandatory communications course for physicians based on patient surveys is on poor experience in the provider-patient communication area. One of the exercises involves using “yes, but”, “no”, and “yes, and” to demonstrate the power of words in communication and determining the type of experience that your providers and staff have with one another and subsequently, their patients.
The conference also had a presentation specifically on the patient-centered emergency department (ED). First impressions are even more important in the ED than most other healthcare environments. Creating a relationship very quickly, and empathizing with patients needs trust. This is a bit challenging to conceptualize in the ED setting where the focus is on how long does the patient wait to be seen, and is the patient getting what he/she came to the ED to get but some of the strategies that were presented seem very appropriate to the ED as well.This relationship is important to build because the ED is the hospital front door and the ED visit sets the patient experience for the entire stay. Higher ED scores affect higher overall satisfaction score. Patient impression of the hospital starts in the community, even before the visit to the ED. It includes “word of mouth”. When building a patient-friendly ED, think about: Fresh eyes perspective. Consider your signage and electronic communication screens. Consider designated spot for supplies and equipment.
In some cases, just as in the inpatient units, whiteboard, clipped on markers, portable whiteboard might work. Some hospitals have looked at color coordinating your staff. This means using different color scrubs for physicians, technologists, nurses, therapists, etc.
Final parting words offered were: Try to “Relate” – Reassure, explain, listen, answer, take action, express appreciation. Reassure by what you say, what you do, and what they see. Engage your staff and your providers in the culture of your organization to overcome burnout.