The value behind human understanding in healthcare: How building a culture and strategy around that concept creates the best outcomes

The concept of human understanding revolves around finding ways to treat patients as unique individuals and personalize each patient's experiences in every interaction with the healthcare system.

During a Becker's Hospital Review podcast sponsored by NRC Health, three customer experience executives discussed the value of human understanding in healthcare. They highlighted specific experiences from Gundersen Health System (La Crosse, Wisc.) and M Health Fairview (Minn.).

Participants were:

  • Casey Arends, customer experience manager, M Health Fairview
  • Shannon Hulett, director of patient experience, Gundersen Health System
  • Jon Tanner, program director of human understanding, NRC Health 

Four key takeaways were:

  1. NRC Health sets the stage for human understanding with tools and metrics to help healthcare organizations embrace this concept. "Human understanding is the set of tools and services insights that we provide to our partners to help them understand the healthcare consumer in a way that allows them to personalize their experiences," Mr. Tanner said. "We also introduced the human understanding metric, which directly asks patients whether everyone has treated them as a unique person."
  1. Gundersen Health focuses on spreading human understanding stories to fuel its mission and vision. Ms. Hulett shared a story of a patient who was being evaluated for a condition that took the life of her mother years before. The day of her appointment had been her mother's birthday, and the staff took the time to take her mother's medical history into account to personalize her medical evaluation. "We know that the experiences we provide create moments that matter more than we will ever be able to measure," she said. "Relentlessly caring is part of our mission, and leading with love is a part of our vision."
  1. M Health Fairview sees human understanding as an excellent way for its staff to focus on the difference they can make. Human understanding "allows us to focus on the impact we can individually have," Mr. Arends said. "It's largely independent of obstacles facing most teams today around wait times and access, and it fits with our new mindset of highlighting patient stories and the positive impact that the staff can make, instead of viewing patient experience as a number to improve."
  1. As these healthcare systems boost their human understanding, they are improving their metrics. These organizations are focused on caring for patients and are not directly focused on achieving some specific metric. However, as a result of this deep focus on human understanding, these organizations have improved both their human understanding metric and their Net Promoter Score. "Gundersen improved its human understanding score by 2.6 percentage points and saw a corresponding increase of 3 points in its Net Promoter Score," Mr. Tanner said. Similarly, M Health Fairview saw both metrics rise together by 4 percentage points.

By focusing on treating each patient as a unique individual, these healthcare systems have profoundly enhanced the experiences of both their customers and their staff. 

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