Leadership Practices for Better Patient Experience
“Patient Experience” as a concept has been a hot topic in the US healthcare system for the last decade, yet many researchers and academics indicate that hospitals are not any safer or more efficient than they were ten years ago. When other industries have caught the wave of intentional consumer experience design, why has healthcare lagged behind?
It might be because healthcare is simply not like other industries. It’s a complicated, expensive, high-risk enterprise), with ever-evolving reimbursement models and increasingly aggressive competition for employees and patients (and grows more complex by the day). Is it any wonder there is no single silver bullet?
Before we throw up our hands, let’s examine seven areas leaders can address to move the needle toward their desired patient experience.
Want change? Start with you.
The act of leading (when done well) is a very personal decision to change the world as you’ve defined it. Not for the faint of heart, it requires humility, hard-work, focus, kindness, candor, and the ability to admit failure. Leading to an improved patient experience will require that you solve problems differently than in the past and, first and foremost, that you lead by example.
An organization cannot be what its leader is not. Radical change in your organization may require radical change to how you and your team operate.
Plan. Plan. Plan.
Improving patient experience depends heavily on your plan to move from your current state to your desired state. Your leadership team must have a crystal-clear blueprint that is sufficiently and intentionally resourced in order to achieve change. Allocation of dollars, clarity of expectations, and casting the day-to-day focus are not tasks that can be delegated (nor are there any short cuts).
A well-defined plan also gives your leadership team the framework to deliberately deviate from it when necessary. Because change is the only constant, teams will always need space for adjustment. A plan that is adhered to blindly is a bad plan, even if it was perfect on day one.
It takes a village.
The hard work to improve the patient experience cannot be delegated to a department, a role or a budget. It is easy to get caught up in the current trend of hiring a Chief Experience Officer or a Senior Director of Caregiver Wellness, especially when top organizations around the country are pointing to improved metrics as a result.
Creating and resourcing these positions, in and of themselves, will never be the answer to solving how your patients experience your hospital. Rather, in order to achieve similar metrics, your organization must be prepared to shift your entire model to be focused on experience.
Hiring a Chief Experience Officer and/or a Senior Director of Caregiver Wellness is just one piece to the puzzle that without a team effort in shifting focus, will not produce the results your organization wants and needs.
Prioritize your people.
Failing to prioritize the needs of your employees is the quickest way to undermine your efforts to improve the patient experience. Arguably, the patient experience wouldn’t require special initiatives if the employee experience were optimized. Studies continue to bear out that happy employees are more productive, make fewer mistakes, and provide better service. Don’t lose sight of the fact that people choose careers in healthcare because they inherently desire to care for others and make a difference in the lives they serve. For leaders in healthcare, job #1 should be to take care of employees, clearing the way to do what they signed up to do in the first place—care for patients.
Your people, regardless of their role, clinical training, seniority, or responsibilities should be able to answer “yes” to the following three questions:
1. Am I treated with dignity and respect by everyone?
2. Do I have the tools and resources I need so I can contribute and do my job?
3. Am I recognized and thanked for what I do?
If they cannot, drive your work efforts to better understand their work environment and then plan to resource and support them more effectively.
Data can set you free.
While sending paper surveys to patients via snail mail is healthcare’s reigning data collection methodology, it’s time to separate the function of satisfying CMS certification requirements from the work of collecting meaningful patient feedback. Meeting a requirement is not the same as executing a strategy.
Paper surveys are not only antiquated and cumbersome, but grossly out of sync with the digital world patients live in today. Surveys are too long, not timely, and too analog for patients to honestly communicate about the care and services your employees deliver. Free yourself from the expense and effort of hanging on to a process you only think you need. Meet your CMS requirement, sure, but then check out the myriad of cost-effective and real-time ways to gather useful feedback. Many organizations have already incorporated text, email, and patient portal survey experiences successfully, and as technology continues to evolve we can get even closer to measuring the moments that matter.
Teach communication skills.
Numerous reports and studies have shown that communication failures are the root cause of most avoidable harm events in healthcare. Yet basic communication training and service excellence skill development is still viewed as a discretionary expense by many healthcare leaders.
If your organization has been surprised by poor H-CAHPS results, it may be time to examine attitudes about basic service excellence and communication training. Be honest. Does your organization view this as discretionary? If yours was one of the organizations that contributed to CMS retaining over $2 billion this year because of poor H-CAHPS results, the answer might be “yes”.
Your leadership team must resource and re-think the needs of the adult learner and provide them curriculum designed and delivered in a way that meets their needs, provides them an opportunity to practice, and makes the learning experience valuable.
Engage the crowd.
A small, core group of individuals such as a senior leadership team, who are likely removed from the front line of care, may not have all the information or situational awareness possessed by the larger population of hospital employees. Their proximity to your hospital’s day-to-day issues could result in more creative, cost effective, and timely solutions—but only if their input is solicited.
Crowd sourcing is not a new concept, but it could have meaningful applications for healthcare process improvement. It gives organizations the opportunity to solve problems differently in a more agile, real-time approach. The role of leaders is then to foster a culture that encourages reporting and solution thinking, while truly listening and distinguishing the most useful ideas for refinement.
Any organization is only as good as the people tasked with delivering on its promises. In healthcare that statement smacks with truth. How employees show up every day and get work done comes down to how leadership has resourced and supported them. If you are aiming for an improved patient experience, TiER1 Healthcare can help you go about the business of activating the potential that lives within your people.