Given the dynamic changes taking place in healthcare, it’s not surprising patient experience is a top priority for most hospitals. What is surprising, however, is the outdated mindset hospitals often have about how to improve the experience. Many are investing in quality and process improvement. They’re recognizing they have customers, and they’re integrating patient feedback in making tactical improvements in hospital design.
This mindset is deeply concerning. Hospitals need to realize that experience isn’t the result of a process improvement. They’re under leveraging how they’re using patient input because they’re still focusing on WHAT patients think versus on HOW they think.
Old school thinking focuses on asking for opinions and suggestions as input. Today, success depends on understanding how patients think about their experience, and then designing and managing the experience accordingly. However, many hospitals are suffering because they’re trapped in an outdated way of thinking in an industry that’s changing rapidly.
Hospitals need to be "clued in” to the patient experience. In other words, do you know how the clues you’re delivering are making your patients feel? Better yet, do you even know how your patients want to feel when they’re at your hospital?
Let’s tackle these questions. Know it or not, you’re constantly delivering a barrage of clues to your patients. What they see, smell, hear, taste and touch will create their "experience” and affect them emotionally, even though they aren't even aware it’s happening. That’s because research tells us that 95% of our mental processing takes place unconsciously; only 5% of your patients’ decisions are based on conscious rational thought.
To engage patients, you need to dig deep into this uncharted 95% of experience processing. Which helps us answer the second question. Most hospitals look at the experience from the company-out, focusing on what their brand must project to affect patients’ impressions of its service. I believe, however, the holy grail is thinking and looking at everything from the customer-back, identifying the emotions patients want to feel during their experience and then designing and managing the clues embedded in the experience to elicit these emotions.
I recently worked with Nemours (which has children’s hospitals and clinics in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida) to help improve the ED experience. Knowing that a trip to the ED is inherently stressful, we dug deeper and discovered that above all, ED patients and families want to feel understood, secure and confident. This trio of emotions became the framework around which the patient experience was redesigned.
Nemours learned that having the child seen swiftly by the physician upon arrival in the ED minimizes parents’ anxiety and reassures them their child is in good hands. So, there is now a physician in triage so the patient is seen right away upon arrival, as well as a "pivot nurse” who provides a fast assessment and quickly moves with the patient and family to the place where care will be provided.
To minimize the times patients and families have to tell the story of what brought them to the ED and their health history, they are experimenting with conducting intake interviews via "team huddles” in which the team of doctors and nurses interviews the patient and family together.
When nurses change shifts, the hand-off is now conducted at the patient’s bedside, involving the family in conversations about the patient’s condition, how care will be continued during the shift, upcoming tests and procedures, etc.
Given the variety of doctors, nurses and staff that are involved in a patient’s ED care, all hospital personnel wear color-coded uniforms so the patient and family feel more secure knowing what that person’s role is.
As Nemours learned, understanding the experience from the inside out helps you get into the minds of your patients. Once you understand the unconscious drivers that impact patient behavior, you can transform to intentionally designing and delivering experiences that give you a competitive edge.
Lewis P. (Lou) Carbone is the Founder, President and Chief Experience Officer of Minneapolis-based Experience Engineering, Inc., and the author of Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again (recipient of the celebrated Fast Company Reader’s Choice Award). Widely recognized as the founder of customer experience management, Lou has spent more than two decades leading the world in the development of experience value management theory and practice in a broad range of industries.