A collection of articles written by Customer 1st

Developing An Outstanding Patient Experience

15th April 2011 | Posted in Patient Experience

The role of the patient is no longer as a passive recipient of care. Nowadays doctors aim to ensure that patients are engage as fully as possible with their own health, care and treatments. There are also a number of initiatives designed to encourage patient involvement in the design, planning and delivery of health services.  Policymakers increasingly believe that encouraging patients to play a more active role in their health care will improve quality, efficiency, and health outcomes.  The Government advocates that the patient experience is critically important and this is where there is much to be learned from the private sector, in which placing the customer at the heart of an organisation’s strategy and policy is very often a pre-requisite of business success.
Turning a service strategy into reality is a key aim for the health care sector.  The balance between health care and the patient experience is a major challenge.  Developing a customer/patient-driven workforce has to be one of the key roles of service leaders and managers, but how can this role be fulfilled?

Firstly, one needs to organise service delivery systems around the needs of patients, designing a service strategy that will put patients at the heart of the business.  Senior Health Care Managers should to ask themselves, “Are we doing everything we can to create the best possible experience for our patients?”

The organisation’s people are the ones to leave a first impression - and a lasting impression - on patients. They also intimately understand patients’ frustrations, and they often know how issues can be resolved, but may not be fully empowered to make the necessary changes.

Components of patient-centricity:

  • Patient insight:  Get to know your patients and understand what they expect from you.  Service managers need to focus on all their patients consistently and use a range of methods of gathering patient intelligence.  Organisations need more reliable methods of evaluating the patient experience and they need their people to make this happen. Before deciding on a service strategy, it is vital to talk to patients and employees - the internal customers.  Use appropriate tools, proven methods, for measuring patient satisfaction, remembering that service as a whole includes a wide range of specific service characteristics, and that there are many touch points throughout the duration of patient care that can be measured.  It is important to check on patients’ perceptions of service levels at each of these touch points and compare the results with what actually takes place. In other words, identify the gaps.
  • Create the service vision or service personality:  This is an identifiable set of service characteristics that define what the organisation service proposition is, and what patients can expect.  Some organisations have their own credo; others have a service promise or a customer charter.  Whatever method is used to communicate service standards to patients and staff, it is important to make sure that those promises are achievable and shared by teams.
  • Develop a patient experience strategy:  This determines the overall direction of the organisation and, in particular, how service leaders will go about delivering service excellence.  It is a high level plan that communicates to everyone involved with the organisation how it will develop relationships with its patients, in order to maximise patient satisfaction.  It is commonly used to prevent non-aligned and disjointed activities between departments, and drives everyone towards the same service goals.  It includes a service/operational plan to ensure that the strategic objectives are met, and this plan must be shared with employees, because everyone is setting out on the same journey.  Communication is key; if you do not keep people informed, rumours and gossip spread fast, and that can lead to negativity, which, once embedded, is hard to eliminate.
  • Build an appropriate patient experience framework:
    A learning and development framework will help to identify how the organisation intends to deliver service excellence, increasing the knowledge and skills of people through learning and development.  Reward and recognition schemes and initiatives to celebrate success are key motivators for employees, so use them to deliver the service strategy.  This type of recognition results in higher employee satisfaction which, in turn, translates into less time off through sickness.

Deploy service leaders and managers as service champions:  A leader who successfully creates a patient focused culture will have a huge impact through employee retention and patient satisfaction.  Ensure that leaders and managers have the right skills, dedication and passionate approach towards achieving an outstanding patient experience.  Leaders should be strategic, but lead by example.  They need to be people who inspire trust and are capable of embedding a no-blame culture throughout the organisation.  They should encourage positive teamwork, developing people with a patient focused mindset, increasing their knowledge and skills for delivering service excellence.  The framework should work to build competencies that are patient focused: good communication skills, tolerance, empathy, good judgment, and the ability to interpret patient issues, responding appropriately according to the organisation’s rules and codes of practice.

  • Create innovative patient services with the support of all your people: Inspire the organisation to develop a culture of continuous improvement and innovation for the benefit of the patient experience.  Suggestion schemes have helped many organisations, public and private, to bring in changes that have improved service delivery for customers.
  • Make processes easy for patients:  Processes should be seamless, designed from the patient’s viewpoint. They should be regularly reviewed to make communication simple and stress-free. This includes making it easy for patients to complain.  It is vital that we understand the difficulties they have, because this can improve their experience – and it shows that we really care about all their issues.

Service alone will not develop relationships with patients. Managing the patient experience is about establishing, maintaining and enhancing relationships with patients for mutual benefit.  This takes us back to the beginning, to learning more and more about our patient experience in order to deliver what they expect.  If the organisation’s people are encouraged not only to deliver the promise, but also to go the extra mile, this goes a long way towards sustaining an outstanding relationship with the patient.

To be blunt, it is no longer appropriate to simply focus on “getting patients better.”  Instead, all health care professionals should seek to understand the emotional interactions between their people and their patients; because this is what determines whether the organisation will be successful in discharging its responsibilities.