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Can You Create a Formula for Improving Patient Experience?

Posted By Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, August 4, 2010

As part of its ongoing commitment to providing an exceptional patient and family service, Community Health Network (CHN) in Indianapolis, decided to turn to its employees for input on how it can continue to improve this aspect of its mission. As part of a recent survey to staff members at one of the system’s hospitals, CHN asked about potential barriers to improving patient experience. This generated great energy among the staff with more than 300 staff members offering over 800 distinct responses regarding possible influences on the patient experience in their facility.

From those responses ten top barriers were identified, including:

  1. Poor personal communication skills
  2. Lack of time to spend with patients and families due to conflicting organizational priorities
  3. Managers and Administration not making Patient Experience a priority
  4. Lack of staffing
  5. Equipment and supply issues that both interrupt the ability to provide care and frustrate the patient
  6. Attitudes and mood of the staff that affect ability to relate to patient
  7. Ineffective systems and processes
  8. Interdepartmental communication breakdowns
  9. Excessive "all staff” emails cut into patient care time
  10. Breakdown in teamwork

    One of the significant "ah-has” from the survey is that while many of the barriers are not surprising, they are clearly items that can (and should) be addressed and improved. While some are operational issues, such as staffing or equipment that may require longer decision cycles, the others get to the core of how staff at all levels engage with patients and one another. These provide potential opportunities for more immediate impact.

    Hospitals that want to pursue improvements in patient experience can learn from CHN’s process. Take the important first step to identify organizational changes that can be made quickly. They can also learn from the list itself, in recognizing it may be some of the very fundamental aspects of organizational life that impede our ability to best meet patients needs. In CHN’s case, how can communication skills be improved, interdepartmental communications reinforced or stronger teamwork developed?

    Let me be clear, in sharing these examples I am not suggesting the solution is simply training. Rather, success is realized through an unwavering commitment to make fundamental changes in your organization. These are not cumbersome and large shifts taking great time, effort or resources. They are focused and purposeful improvements that will go a long way to change the experience for patients and their families, as well as your employees.

    This week The Beryl Institute releases the first in our expanded series of white papers on improving the patient experience. The paper provides insights from three individuals who are leading efforts to transform how their organizations address the patient experience, one of which is CHN. For all three organizations, the patient experience starts well before the patients enter the physical hospital building at their first contact with the hospital - be it online, on the phone, or in the parking lot. This reinforces the idea that first impressions are just the start of creating truly lasting impressions. Through their stories, each individual helps us see is that it is often a commitment to identifying opportunities and then taking steps to address the fundamentals that can have a significant impact.

    The healthcare marketplace is increasingly focused on what it will take to improve the patient experience. The trick is determining what steps matter, where we can make positive change quickly and what actions may require more time and resources. Right now, having a top patient experience score translates into local market bragging rights. Soon it will equate to bigger reimbursements from CMS. So can we create a formula for improving the patient experience? Remember, as the experience at CHN shows, improving the patient experience is an individual journey for each organization; one that requires clear priorities, unwavering commitment and a bias for action. Perhaps the real question is can you afford not to?

    Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
    Executive Director
    The Beryl Institute

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