NewYork-Presbyterian CXO Rick Evans: New challenges require a new approach for patient experience

As I have written about over the last few months, many healthcare organizations including my own, are redefining our approaches to assessing and improving patient experience. This reevaluation of our approach stems from several factors.  

One is that the pandemic and its aftereffects have battered not only the patient experience itself, but also the structures and strategies we have historically had in place to improve patient experience. Most of us are in recovery mode, in some cases rebuilding our approaches almost from the ground up.  

Another factor is how our society and culture have evolved in recent years. We have become a society that prizes convenience and personalization in our interactions. These dynamics have come to healthcare, and they must be addressed and integrated into our approach if we are to thrive in the future. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend as patients have learned to embrace virtual means of connection through telemedicine and patient portals.

All of this brings us to a new moment in patient experience, one that requires us to think about experience in different, yet interrelated ways. Many people in jobs like mine are thinking about what I'd describe as patient experience, customer experience and user experience, and this reflection is leading to new, innovative strategies and initiatives within our organizations and across healthcare in general.

The core of our work has always been understanding the needs and desires of our patients and families and structuring our workflow and services to better address those needs — what we refer to as "patient experience." This work still largely centers on the basics of human interactions within our walls. Essentially, it boils down to consistent communication and connection. When patients give us feedback — through surveys, focus groups or in their comments — they are evaluating our teams' "discretionary work." We are not evaluated so much on our clinical expertise but on our ability to connect, effectively educate and work together as a team. There is a solid body of knowledge and best practices on how to do this well. Our patient experience improvement work continually engages our teams to enhance their ability to deliver on these essential needs and expectations. This remains at the core of our work.

Increasingly, we are also thinking about the customer experience. This work acknowledges the broader journey of patients in healthcare. If we are really to provide a good experience, it cannot just begin when a patient arrives in a bed, on an exam table or in a procedure room. The journey often begins on the web or with a phone call. And it doesn't end when a patient is discharged. The journey is more circular and ongoing. Patients expect compassion, but they also prize convenience. As they are experiencing personalized approaches in other parts of their lives, they expect that individualized approach in their healthcare journeys as well. Customer experience focuses on these "befores and afters" and on providing the access that our patients want and need. It is hard to imagine an effective experience strategy at this time that doesn't effectively blend patient and customer experience elements. The work of many healthcare chief experience officers increasingly reflects this reality.

Finally, there is also "user experience." This is an aspect that I've been thinking about a lot recently. As we innovate in the experience space, we are finding ways to better leverage technology to increase and augment our ability to connect with patients and each other. This became critical during the height of COVID-19 because it was sometimes the only way to stay connected. As COVID-19 issues have eased, we are in a period of carefully balancing the use of technology. We want to give patients a full range of options for interactions, inside and outside of the care setting. But we also want to avoid reducing healthcare to a series of remote transactions. Use of connective technology should enhance the humanity in healthcare, not degrade it. Our patients are giving us their perspective on the user experience, and we need to collect and respond to this feedback thoughtfully. Our clinical teams are also giving us feedback about how these virtual tools and interactions work for them. They have a user experience as well. As with patients, we need to respond and structure our services accordingly. I am confident we will find the right mix and balance, but attention is needed now to get this right for the future.

All three of the above — patient, customer and user experience — need to be part of any overarching experience strategy. We are integrating these here at NewYork-Presbyterian, and I know many of my colleagues are doing the same. This is the path to creating a more personalized patient experience and also a path to recovery from the pandemic. 

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