What’s Really Preventing You from Delivering a 5-Star Patient Experience?

It’s time to get very practical when it comes to the experience you’re providing.

Early in the pandemic, patients were giving high marks for their experiences, often in sincere appreciation for essential workers who were showing up to work. Sentiments are changing now. On an individual level, masks, face shields and PAPRs put additional layers between caregivers and patients. Fatigue has set in. What was challenging before is harder today than ever, but patients are once again expecting – and deserve – a great interaction with their healthcare providers. Those organizations who are positively differentiating their patient experience in this new world will be the ones with the best chances for survival.

This volume of Art of Change, explores patient experience and how it is currently viewed in your organization. If the experience you provide is suffering, consider these five likely reasons:

1. Your employees aren’t engaged.

If your patient experience is lackluster, it is highly likely your employee engagement is also. That’s understandable as we’re now seven months into an extraordinarily difficult time for healthcare workers. Employee engagement was a challenge prior to the pandemic and remains so today. You can pinpoint the weak spots by answering these questions:

  • Are you aware of the current state of your employee engagement?
  • How has COVID-19 impacted morale? Are you surveying them about how they feel today?
  • How well are your frontline managers communicating with their staffs?
  • Do your employees have input into the decisions that impact them?
  • Have you invested in your employees’ growth? Do you recognize and show genuine appreciation for them? Has that appreciation continued even past the surge?
  • Would your staff recommend your organization to their families and friends?
  • Do they intend to stay with you for the next year or more? If not, are you addressing areas needing your immediate attention?

Now more than ever, your employees need to feel informed, respected and appreciated. Nurses and doctors are highly trusted by the public and are expected to be involved in the conversation around healthcare today. A negative word from a trusted voice can damage your organization and lead patients to question their experience.

Takeaway: If your employee engagement isn’t good, you must work on this first before dedicating a lot of resources to your patient experience. Disengaged or disgruntled employees will not care about your customers or your organization’s reputation. A good rule of thumb:  Your employees will convey the same level of caring toward your customers as they receive from their leaders.

2. You’re not collecting, analyzing, or acting upon your patient experience data.

Listening to the voices of your patients (and their families) is vital to understanding how you’re doing. With the ongoing swirl of COVID-19,  data shows that patients today are fearful. It’s more important than ever to have a clear line of sight into what people are feeling, thinking and experience. Your patient experience feedback comes from many sources, especially survey information. Consider these points:

  • Have you adjusted your surveys to include your virtual healthcare visits?
  • Scores are valuable insight; comments can be priceless. Are you reading these?
  • What are patients telling your patient advocates? Are there repetitive themes to investigate and address?
  • What are patients telling you during rounds? Do you ask about hassles they’re experiencing or ways to improve their experience? Do you act on this?
  • What are your patients saying on social media? Are patients able to contact you easily? Who’s managing your online reputation?
  • Where is all of this information stored? How is it collated? How is it analyzed?
  • Are you contacting the patients who shared a poor experience to provide service recovery by listening, asking deeper questions, offering a sincere apology, and thanking them for taking the time to give you honest feedback?

If you’re not doing all of these things, now is the time to start. Clear expectations, action and accountability are essential. Are your leaders responsible for developing action plans based on your patient experience data? Where are these action plans reviewed? Make sure you are truly problem-solving by getting at the root cause of repetitive or egregious issues.

Takeaway: Patient experience should be treated with the rigor of process improvement. The goal, after all, is to prevent these issues from happening again. 

3. You’re not providing your employees with the critical skills they need to be excellent.

Employee education is an investment, but it’s less costly than having employees who provide sub-par patient experience. Three key types of training rise to the top:

  • Basic customer service skills for everyone (courtesy, respect, body language, tone of voice, phone etiquette, service recovery, etc.)
  • Communication training for all clinicians (listening, conveying empathy, creating trust, setting expectations, etc.)
  • Patient experience training for all leaders (coaching, rounding on patients and employees, understanding data, problem-solving, action planning, etc).

Yes, some people will be bristle at having to go through “basic training” that they believe they don’t need. They’ll get over it. A consistent standard for everyone is important. Make sure your training curriculum is high-quality and interactive. If you lack internal resources, there are numerous organizations that provide high quality, evidence-based training curriculums.

Takeaway: Don’t skimp. A highly-skilled, competent workforce is a building block of excellence.

4. You lack a documented, comprehensive, strategic plan for realistic patient experience improvement.

Yes, those are a lot of adjectives. All of them are important. Once again, these questions can help you assess if your strategic plan is robust enough, assuming you have one.

  • Do you have a current, documented patient experience plan? Who is responsible for developing and updating it? How often is it reviewed? Has it evolved since COVID-19? Does everyone know their role in execution?
  • Is your plan comprehensive? Are the right people included in it? Does it focus on people, processes and systems needing improvement? Is the plan guided by data?
  • Is your plan strategic? Are you focusing on the right things at the right time? Does it identify your patient experience priority areas? Make sure you focus your time and resources on areas that are most impactful.
  • Is your plan realistic? Change takes time, especially when it spans an organization. Do you have the needed resources to execute? Are you using change management principles to ensure the changes are successful?

Takeaway: A goal without a plan is just a dream. It must be documented and tracked regularly.

5. Leadership has not made patient experience an organizational priority.

This may be hard to hear if you’re a healthcare leader.  The reality is that if your patient experience isn’t where you want it to be, and you don’t have a documented, comprehensive, realistic, strategic plan for improvement, then you need to take a long hard look in the mirror by considering the following high level responsibilities and questions to help evaluate areas of opportunity:

Leadership sets the priorities.

  • Have you clearly communicated that patient experience is a top priority for your department, hospital or health system?
  • Does patient experience gets the same attention as your other organizational priorities? Is it part of your leadership dashboard?
  • Is patient experience part of your performance evaluations?
  • Is it part of your daily conversations?

Leadership sets the goals.

  • Have you set aspirational but achievable goals for patient experience improvement?
  • Have you cascaded those goals down to your leadership team and frontline employees?

Be realistic about what can be accomplished. You don’t want to create frustration with goals that are impossible to achieve within your timeframe.

Leadership sets the tone.

  • Do you role model the behaviors you expect from your team? Do you round on your employees and patients? Do you introduce yourself to others? Do you pick up trash when you see it in the parking lot? Do you approach patients or visitors who appear to be lost, and escort them to their destination?
  • Do you require documented “Patient and family input” before approving new programs, new equipment, new policies, etc?

Leadership sets the agenda.

  • Does patient experience have a consistent place on your meeting agendas?
  • Are your Patient Experience experts part of your leadership meetings?
  • What questions are you asking during meetings? Do you connect the dots between patient experience and finance? Between patient experience and employee engagement? Between patient experience and other quality metrics like readmissions and length of stay?

Takeaway:  Leadership is ultimately responsible for the attitude and energy surrounding your organization’s patient experience. As a leader, your actions will speak louder than your words.

Much goes into creating a culture of intentionality around patient experience.  Consistency is critical to avoid the “flavor of the month,” syndrome. Patient experience must never be treated as a program, initiative or marketing gimmick. Rather, it needs to be part of your organization’s DNA. People will notice if your marketing doesn’t match the reality, and that can be devastating for your reputation.

Successful organizations treat patient experience as a critical quality metric that requires constant attention, appropriate resources and continuous process improvement. They also embrace the philosophy that patient experience is everyone’s job, just like quality and safety are everyone’s job. It’s a never-ending journey.

About the Author /

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Dr. Denise Venditti brings Jarrard clients rich perspective based on 25 years in patient experience, nursing leadership and hospital operations. Prior to joining the firm in an of Counsel role, Venditti served as the vice president of patient experience for the esteemed Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In that role, she oversaw Geisinger’s ProvenExperience® program, the industry’s first “money back guarantee” that refunds patients’ out-of-pocket expenses for poor experience. Her patient experience improvement work with Geisinger colleagues on issues related to nursing communication and pain management has been published. Venditti held previous leadership positions at Geisinger Medical Center including associate vice president of nursing, direction of operations, and operations manager. As part of the hospital’s executive nursing leadership team that earned the prestigious Magnet Recognition® in 2008 and 2013, she also pioneered Geisinger’s 24-hour open visitation policy and created the health system’s first grant-funded position dedicated entirely to patient and family-centered care. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Bloomsburg University and a Master of Health Administration from the University of Scranton. She completed her Master of Science in Nursing and her Doctor of Nursing Practice from American Sentinel University. Venditti is a certified as Patient Experience Professional (CPXP) and board certified as a Nurse Executive-Advanced (NEA-BC). She has been a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) since 2008.