7 patient experience leaders on the key lessons they learned in 2019

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Seven leaders overseeing patient experience at hospitals across the country discussed with Becker's Hospital Review the lessons they will carry with them into 2020.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Question: What was the most important lesson you learned in 2019 as a patient experience leader?

Pam Guler. Vice President and Chief Experience Officer of AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.): This year, I reflect on the deep connection between team member, physician and patient/consumer experience. No one of these three can function without the other, and the relationship between them thrives most in a culture that cares for the body, mind and spirit. Building a strong culture for the way that team members and physicians work together is the starting point to delivering an exceptional experience for our consumers. By viewing this relationship as a long-term partnership rather than a transaction within an episode of care, we can better partner with our consumers through every stage of life and health.

Jacque Maples. Regional Director of Caregiver and Patient Experience for the Northern California Region of Providence St. Joseph Health (Renton, Wash.): In 2019 we found that our theory 'culture feeds experience and results' is true! This year we focused on transforming our culture by empowering frontline caregivers and engaging leaders to deliver exceptional experiences. Engaged leaders and empowered caregivers equals engaged and empowered patients.

No matter what your goals and priorities are — financial success, quality improvement or patient experience — when the frontline caregivers are your most important focus, you show them they matter and engage them in transforming the work they do, everything else naturally goes up. You can throw tools and tactics at the bedside all day long, and the numbers won't budge, but when we cared for our caregivers, employee engagement, quality, patient and financial targets all improved. As we move in to 2020, we continue to put an intentional and strategic focus on our caregivers, the ones who make a difference every day in the lives of all those we serve.

Brook Watts, MD. Chief Quality Officer at MetroHealth (Cleveland): We learned that quality and safety is patient experience. Patient experience must be fully embedded in hospital operations to be successful.

Stephen Meth. Chief Experience Officer at Prime Healthcare (Ontario, Calif.): I was fortunate to spend time kayaking and guiding clients on whitewater river adventures in my youth. 2019 reminded me to apply the lessons of the river current to the realities of healthcare and patient experience. Obstacles include both those you can see and those that that are hidden beneath the surface as the current moves you along its desired path. Traveling with the pace of the current, you're most likely to be swept into obstacles. Eventually, after falling out of my boat one too many times, I learned it was necessary to go faster than the current or deliberately slower than the current to allow safe passage.

In 2019, senior leaders at Prime Healthcare planned moments to move slower than the current of EHR go-lives and other obstacles to encourage self-reflection of what's working and where we needed to refine our approach.

Prime's senior leadership [also] had the foresight to speed up patient portal access and utilization to sculpt how patients choose their provider and coordinate their care post-discharge. Slowing down and speeding up our interventions within our strategic framework ushered in improvement from the nationwide 11th percentile rank in 2015 to the 67th in 2019 in our targeted HCAHPS domain of responsiveness. Speaking as a kayaker, that's my kind of 'rapid!'

Lisa Drumbore. Vice President of Marketing and Communication and Chief Patient Experience Officer at Saint Peter's Healthcare System (New Brunswick, N.J.): The first step to growing as a human being, and as a leader, is to know where you are, where you have been and where you want to go.

To that end, at Saint Peter's Healthcare System, I lead by example when it comes to creating what is often referred to as 'moments of truth.' These powerful moments occur all the time, when we least expect them. They represent the opportunity to exceed expectations and go beyond the ordinary as we interact with patients, their families, colleagues and members of the community.

At the end of the day, as a patient experience leader, it is my job to create the strategic vision and execute a flawless communication plan around service excellence. Yet, equally important is the ability to infuse the human element — to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to doing what is good and right. One way I can gauge how well I am truly making a difference is by examining how the members of my engaged, resilient Saint Peter's family respond to my vision. When I am successful being my authentic self, it encourages those around me to give the best of themselves.

Kevin R. Gwin. Chief Patient Experience Officer at University of Missouri Health Care (Columbia): Our greatest insight of 2019 is that with loyalty comes grace. When our patient relationships achieve loyalty, we do not have to worry so much about being flawless. With loyalty, we also receive a level of forgiveness. The relationship is solid, although we may not be perfect.

Linda C. Lombardi, PhD. Chief Experience and Strategy Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue (New York City): The most important lesson we learned is that the best way to approach our work and face our challenges is to work with staff and patients with compassion. We all understand the realities of our industry, the pressures on scores and outcomes. We know,too, of the realities of resources and competition.

We have adopted a learning mindset and developed staff, and we have streamlined and improved access. However, at the end of the day, what really matters is the experience of care as seen, felt and lived by those working here and those receiving care here. What really matters is something beyond the latest approach or philosophy for improving the patient experience. What matters is how we care for our staff, our patients and their families. What really matters is our understanding of their situations and our intention to relieve suffering and work toward healing. What really matters is our compassion. The care experience is, after all, the human experience, and if we approach our work, in whatever role we have in the facility, with compassion then the outcomes we seek will arrive.

Therefore, the most important lesson of the year is not something new or shiny; it is not a sparkling new insight. It is something known and quite old. Compassion is the driving force for improving the staff and patient experience — lesson learned.

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