2 patient experience strategies separating front-runners from the pack

As a whole, the healthcare industry is making gains in patient experience. But that doesn't mean health systems can rest on their laurels, according to Thomas Lee, MD, CMO of Press Ganey.

"If you are at the median [for patient experience performance] and keep doing the same nice work, but you don't do anything better, five years later you'll be in the bottom quartile," he said. "It's not that we're getting better at smiling at people or having harpists in the lobby. We're collectively doing a better job at meeting patients' needs and understanding what they're going through."

Dr. Lee recently spoke with Becker's about what really moves the needle on patient experience and how leading health systems are achieving significant improvements.

Four takeaways from the conversation:

1. Patient experience strategy should be a "must have," not a "nice to have." Healthcare leaders must acknowledge that good patient experience is a business imperative, according to Dr. Lee.

"That means that at the very top of organizations, the boards and CEOs are paying attention to patient experience," he said. "It's not a nice to have, it's a must have. When leadership makes it a priority, then things happen."

Dr. Lee pointed to Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare as a trendsetter in this area. In 2017, CEO Marc Harrison, MD, implemented daily tiered escalation huddles as part of a continuous improvement initiative. Every Monday, Dr. Harrison meets with his senior leadership team to discuss not only serious safety events, but also serious patient experience events. 

"The leaders at the very top understand that the organization has to be highly reliable about delivering care the way it should be delivered," Dr. Lee said.

2. Two patient experience strategies separate front-runners from the pack. The first is integration. Dr. Lee said an increasing number of organizations are realizing that patient experience, safety and workforce engagement are all intertwined. As such, they're concentrating these responsibilities under one executive. Dr. Lee cited Shannon Phillips, MD, who serves as Intermountain's chief patient safety and experience officer, as an example of this trend.

"These health systems are adopting a holistic, integrated idea of what excellence means," Dr. Lee said. "You want a workforce, including doctors and nurses, who are highly reliable about delivering care with an integrated idea of excellence. That takes culture change."

The second strategy involves segmentation. Healthcare organizations cannot assume every patient has the same needs and expectations when it comes to patient experience.

"We have the data, and we show it to providers. What the experience is like for breast cancer patients is completely different from colon cancer patients at the same hospital," Dr. Lee said. "They have separate issues and the extent to which the organization is meeting those needs are really different."

Therefore, some health systems are starting to look at patient experience on a segmented level. The idea is to collect experience data on specific patient groups and then benchmark performance based on those same patient segments at other healthcare organizations. While still in an early-adopter phase, the effort is yielding positive results, according to Dr. Lee. 

"The organizations that are making some very nice improvements are taking it down to that segmented level," he said. "That's where we are headed."

3. Health systems are getting wiser about how technology is used. They recognize that technology is crucial to offering the level of convenience sought by patients today and are investing heavily in this area, Dr. Lee said. He cited Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health as one of the most innovative and forward-looking systems in this area.

"Many of their innovation leaders come from Amazon, and they're using data in cool ways," Dr. Lee said. "If you're a patient, and you have a sore throat and need a culture, you can click on your smartphone and someone will come to you. If you need laboratory testing, you can go to any of their facilities, regardless of where your doctor is."

Yet technology is a double-edged sword, and health systems are also being more careful about how they use it.

"If you walked around [Rochester, Minn.-based] Mayo Clinic today, I can guarantee that you would see very few personnel walking around looking at their smartphone," Dr. Lee said. 

That's because Mayo leaders realized the behavior sends patients a message that employees don't want to be interrupted.

"But Mayo wants patients to feel like they can interrupt anyone," Dr. Lee said. "So they've created a social norm where it's understood you don't stare at your smartphone when you're in public areas with patients."

4. There is no silver bullet. Dr. Lee acknowledged it's easy to get seduced by simple measures obtained through quick means. However, he warned health systems against placing too much weight on their Net Promoter Score alone. The index is used to measure overall satisfaction and loyalty based on how likely consumers are to recommend the organization to friends or family. 

While Net Promoter Scores may offer health systems some value, asking "How much do you love me? How are we doing overall?" is not as useful as asking "What can I do to make you love me more? What can we do to be better than we are?"

"Improvement is hard and takes real commitment. You can't go looking for simple, easy silver bullets," Dr. Lee concluded. "We are in a very complex business. To improve experience, you have to try to be improving on multiple fronts all the time."

 More articles on patient engagement:
Hospital acquisitions hurt patient experience, study suggests
NYC hospital uses popular dating apps to encourage HIV testing
Online triage tool reduces patient uncertainty about care needed, study shows

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