The term ‘patient experience’ means different things to different people. To some, it’s being able to book an appointment online. To others, it’s being able to stream videos while in the hospital. And to some, it’s something as simple as getting a warm blanket.
It’s a lot of things; the one thing it’s not? A buzzword. It’s a reminder of why everyone in healthcare — from nurses to IT executives to lab technicians — does what they do. For a growing number of organizations, taking steps to improve the experience for patients and their families has become a core objective. In some cases, of course, that involves leveraging tools and technologies to enable individuals to interact with providers and participate in their care; to make it as easy to schedule a mammogram as it is to book a spa appointment.
But it’s not all about technology.
Last week, healthcare facilities across the country took part in Patient Experience Week, an annual event that provides “a focused time for organizations to celebrate accomplishments, re-energize efforts and honor the people who impact patient experience every day,” according to the Beryl Institute. Some of the many activities shared on Twitter (using the hashtags #PatientExperienceWeek and #Iamthepatientexperience) included guest speakers, trivia games, and expositions. At Manatee Memorial, patients received Golden Tickets to present to healthcare professionals who have gone above and beyond, and Miriam Hospital posted several pictures of “amazing staff members.”
It was encouraging to see these individuals get the recognition they deserve. Most, if not all of us, have had a care experience that was much more bearable due to the efforts of a nurse, physical therapist, or front-desk worker. By taking the time to truly listen to what someone wants, hold their hand when they’re scared, or tell them where to get a decent cup of coffee, they’re making a difference.
How are IT staffers, who aren’t directly involved with patient care, supposed to know actions they can take to make the journey just a little bit easier?
Some organizations have addressed this by inviting patients to participate in forums, or even serve on advisory panels. And although this an important step in enabling those who are impacted most by major decisions to provide input, it still leaves one sector – the IT staff – in the dark.
There is, however, another solution, which I learned about during a recent interview with Zafar Chaudry, MD, CIO at Seattle Children’s. As a physician, one of his top priorities is helping his team to “feel what parents [of young patients] feel on a daily basis. And so, every quarter, the organization hosts an all-hands session where IT members can hear directly from parents. “They tell us about their child,” Dr. Chaudry noted. “They show us pictures; they tell us about their child’s condition; and they tell us about their experience and journey. And the focus is always, ‘This is where technology helped me, and this is where technology hindered me.’”
The sessions provide a perspective that can only come from hearing about care experiences firsthand. For example, the ability to stream videos may not seem that important — until you learn it’s needed so that a child with terminal cancer can watch his favorite movie.
And that’s just one example. At Partners HealthCare, Jim Noga’s team is working on a wayfinding program that does much more than provide directions; ideally, it will reserve parking spots for patients, and send notifications if the physician is running behind. They also plan to leverage having an integrated record to enable patients to schedule follow-up appointments closer to home, knowing the data will follow them. “All these convenience factors lead to better patient care and probably reduce stress — not just on the patient, but the family,” he said.
The downside? It puts added pressure on CIOs, many of whom are already spread quite thin, noted Christopher Timbers, CIO at NorthBay Healthcare. “There’s so much more focus on the patient-facing aspect of what we do. Initially, it was providing a portal; now, it’s looking at the different ways patients interact with us. Some of our success as an organization is directly tied to how effectively we can do that,” he stated, adding, “If you’re not innovating and you’re not out there interacting with customers, you’re going to become irrelevant and probably be replaced.”
It may sound harsh — the truth often is. But it gives all leaders something to strive for: a better care environment.
As one chief experience officer – Sue Murphy of UChicago Medicine – aptly stated, “Technology and innovation have changed a lot of things, but people just want to be cared for. That hasn’t changed.”
And it never will. So let’s make every week Patient Experience Week.