My dearest friend recently received news that her breast
cancer is back after 11 years of remission. She struggles daily with eating
enough to maintain a healthy weight, feeling strong and motivated enough to
walk in the pool to build her strength, and to find relief from the constant
pain. I’m not sure the word happy is in her vocabulary these days. But expressions of gratitude, a decrease in
her anxiety, and a feeling of comfort are certainly emotions she has
experienced when interacting with her healthcare team.
During the past several years in my various roles leading
patient experience efforts, I have had frequent conversations with physicians, leaders,
and clinical staff about what patient experience is, what it’s not and why
these efforts are so important.
Some physicians express frustration about measuring patient
satisfaction. After all, "It’s
impossible to make every patient happy, why are we spending so much time and
money sending surveys?” I have also
experienced hospital administrators share their belief that if staff would just
be nicer to people, the scores would improve. And, I have witnessed nurses and
other clinical staff push back on patient experience activities saying, "We are
not Disney, we are not here to make sure people have a good time, we are here
to take care of patients.”
As I think about the evolution of the Patient Experience
(PX) movement, I understand these various viewpoints. My PX journey began when
the organization I worked for hired a consultant to teach the importance of
customer service. After about 18 months,
this turned into an initiative called "Service Excellence: Our Values in Action”. We continued on this journey for 5-8 years
and recently the language and movement changed to what we know today as Patient
Experience. I fully embraced this change, as it is a demonstration of applying
our ongoing learning of what PX is really all about.
I don’t believe the goal of delivering the best to the patient
and their families should be framed within the context of making them happy. I don’t
believe patients give us the gift of their feedback, respond to a survey or write
a heartfelt note because people simply made them happy. I believe it’s about so
I tell physicians that patient satisfaction surveys do not
measure patient happiness, but they can determine whether you listened with a
compassionate ear as they expressed their concerns and worries.
I vividly recall reading a letter from the niece of a patient
after her uncle died. She expressed her deepest gratitude not only for the care
and compassion her uncle received but also for the care and comfort she
received at a most difficult time in her life. The letter she wrote focused on
the nurse who called to inform her that her uncle passed away in the middle of
the night. This nurse went on to explain that he did not die alone. Hearing
this brought instant comfort to the niece. Was she expressing happiness in her
letter? Of course not. Rather, she was thanking this nurse for the
compassionate way in which she shared this difficult news.
I’m not saying that in healthcare we should not be nice to
people or that those simple courtesies are not important parts of the way we
deliver care. What I am saying is that we must reach higher, go deeper, and
deliver care in the most compassionate way. That is why I fully embrace the
next evolution in our PX journey.
Lee talks about this in his three levels of care framework. Wendy
Leebov’s works with clinicians building their skill in compassionate communications
and Colleen Sweeney
raises awareness in patient’s biggest healthcare fears in her Empathy Project.
Hospitals, clinics, outpatient centers etc, do not have the
same goals as Disney. We must look
beyond the happiness factor. We must comfort, care, listen and
convey compassion in every interaction. That is what the patient experience is
all about and why I’m more than happy
to listen to what our patients have to say about their healthcare experience.
Deanna LW Frings
Director, Education & Professional Development
The Beryl Institute