A patient-centered culture is at the epicenter of the patient experience

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are rethinking the experience they provide to patients. Today, they’re taking cues from the hospitality sector and other industries where customer experience is best-in-class and focused on providing choice. By building state-of-the-art facilities and offering outstanding customer service and amenities that rival those of a five-star hotel—everything from private suites with flat-screen televisions and gourmet room service meals to massage therapy and designer hospital gowns—healthcare organizations are going the extra mile.

While research shows that enhanced amenities are important to patients, they encompass only a portion of a first-rate patient experience, says Jason Wolf, Ph.D., CPXP, president of The Beryl Institute, a global community of practice dedicated to improving the patient experience through collaboration and shared knowledge. According to its The State of Patient Experience 2017: A Return to Purpose study, more than 85 percent of respondents say that quality, safety and service are part of the patient experience, along with the engagement of patients, families and employees.

Creating a Culture of Care

Ready to rethink the patient experience at your hospital? Start by looking at the culture. “Many organizations miss the mark with patient experience because they try to implement tactics and strategies without actually looking at this underlying piece of the infrastructure,” says Lyn Ketelsen, chief patient experience officer at Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare.

Here are a few strategic tips for making patient-centered changes to your hospital’s culture:

1. Commit resources to the patient experience. An increasing number of hospitals and health systems recognize that the patient experience can’t be left in the hands of employees with other responsibilities, making the position of chief patient experience officer (CXO) one of the fastest-growing roles in the healthcare industry, according to Managed Healthcare Executive magazine. Today, 58 percent of U.S. hospitals have a CXO, research from The Beryl Institute reveals. Plus, a modest but growing number of hospitals (35 percent) have dedicated patient experience teams of five or more employees.

Ketelsen, who was hired by HCA in February 2015, is the health system’s first CXO. It is her responsibility to leverage best practices and collaborate with leaders across the enterprise to ensure patients at each affiliated hospital and facility receive the best care and experience possible, and employees are engaged and satisfied with their work. “Without having a dedicated position, it’s easy to lose sight of the goal to make the patient experience a strategic priority,” Ketelsen says. “Having someone who brings subject matter expertise gives senior executives confidence that their investments in that area, especially given so many other important competing priorities, will have impact.”

2. Engage your employees. Happy employees lead to happier patients. Employee engagement, according to The Beryl Institute’s latest study, is the fastest-growing objective of hospitals when it comes to improving the patient experience. At HCA, an annual engagement survey asks employees how they feel about their jobs and measures satisfaction, Ketelsen says. “We take our findings from these evaluations to identify evidence-based practices and ensure our employees have the tools, equipment and information necessary to do their jobs,” she says. This includes employee rounding, which gives them opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with their managers.

It’s also critical to set clear expectations for employees, so they can steer their performance accordingly, Wolf adds. (A 2015 poll from Gallup revealed that only 50 percent of employees know what is expected of them.) Knowing job expectations will encourage employees to take ownership of their work. “Provide the skills for them to make the right decisions and understand the guardrails on their decision-making ability, whether it’s changing a pillow or challenging a doctor in an appropriate way,” Wolf says. Be aware of their chain of command and ways they can “manage up” if necessary.

3. Encourage empathy. Nurses are the engines that drive the patient experience, Ketelsen says. As frontline staff, they’re often the ones holding patients’ hands after they receive scary news or providing comfort to family members after a loved one passes. The way a nurse responds and reacts to these types of events is noticed and remembered by patients. In McKinsey on Healthcare’s 2014 Consumer Health Insights Survey, respondents ranked nurse empathy over all other measures of patient satisfaction.

Measuring the Patient Experience

When it comes to gauging the patient experience, many health systems turn to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, a 32-question assessment created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. While the HCAHPS survey can highlight inefficiencies or areas that need to be improved, it should not be the only scorecard used to measure the patient experience, Ketelsen says.

At HCA, senior leadership additionally obtains patient feedback informally, Ketelsen says. “We make sure a nurse leader visits patients each day, and we also talk to a sampling of patients in the emergency department. Those are dynamic conversations that give us important insights. We also look at social media to see what current and former patients are saying online about their experiences with us.”

Hospitals that make delivering a superior patient experience a priority should see positive outcomes in the key areas healthcare organizations look to enhance their performance, Wolf adds. “From my perspective, when hospitals get the patient experience right, they see better clinical outcomes, improved financial viability and patient loyalty, and enjoy a reputation as a top care facility in the communities they serve.”

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