As the VP of Experience Innovation at The Beryl Institute, it seems quite logical (and necessary) for me to have a clear understanding of how to define innovation in the Field of Patient Experience. Since I have just celebrated my one-year anniversary at The Beryl Institute, I thought this might be the right time to share my perspective on what we mean when we say “Experience Innovation.”
At its core, innovation requires creating something new or changing something that already exists so that it becomes new/improved. By this framing, we can safely say innovation permeates experience efforts across all aspects of the Experience Field. Perhaps more important than defining Experience Innovation, however, is determining the motive and method for innovation.
IDENTIFYING MOTIVES BY UNDERSTANDING WHO WILL BE IMPACTED
Healthcare is competitive. Even in the Field of Patient Experience, we see organizations and individuals striving for recognition and advancement. At times, the motive for innovation might be driven more by a desire to stand out. In some cases, innovations are designed for the sake of being innovative. For these and other reasons, we must closely examine if the motive for innovation is directly tied to being helpful to a PERSON or GROUP of people. Innovations without a clear connection to the people potentially served, at the very least, run the risk of wasting effort/resources or, in the worst case scenario, creating harmful innovations.
The first step in examining an innovation’s motive involves becoming clear about who will be impacted by the innovation. This requires an in-depth understanding of the experiences of the “end-users” (to borrow a Human Centered Design term). In healthcare, the “end user” is often a patient but it is certainly not limited to patients and families.
Once the “end-user(s)” are clearly defined, it is important to ask a few basic questions:
- Do we know the problem we are trying to solve is a) really a problem and b) is a priority for those impacted?
- Have we gathered sufficient data from those we plan to help to a) understand their experiences and b) ask them if our innovation would potentially make their experience better?
After these questions have been answered we can then begin to walk through ow the innovation is directly tied to being helpful to a PERSON or GROUP of people. One possible way of doing this is by pulling in the Model for Improvement. While this approach is a widely recognized step-by-step way of improving safety and quality in healthcare, for some reason, this model is applied to experience improvement far less often. Because we have a large and diverse toolbox filled with potential tactics for change, we want to be sure we are not using an “innovation for innovation sake” approach but, rather, building an innovative strategy to help people by addressing a specifically identified need. Using something like the Model for Improvement can help guide the discovery of the “why” before the “how”.
KNOWING THE “WHY” BEFORE CONSIDERING THE “HOW”
For organizations working to find strategies that enable them to hear the voice of their patients and families, finding a structure to do so is innovative and met with enthusiasm.
A Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) is a well-known, widely accepted strategy with low risk to the organization. For these and other reasons, PFACs are often the first choice for partnering with the community. Despite the popularity and comfortability, in some cases, organizations are surprised to find the PFAC’s administrative lift is too heavy or the community itself is not interested in engaging with their local healthcare organization in that way. Such a discovery may be followed by a revisioning of the goals for the PFAC and, in some cases, the choice is made to use an entirely different partnership strategy. In either case, the time spent running a PFAC without clear aim was potentially wasteful and frustrating.
In instances like these, it was recognized far down the road that there was not a clear vision for the “why” but, rather, only a focus on “how” to build and implement the strategy.
Rather than starting out by choosing an innovative strategy (like building a PFAC), we can begin by getting clear about the desired improvement to experience. Moving forward, it is important to know a few basic things:
- What are we trying to accomplish with this innovation? How will it help people?
- How will we know we have helped people?
- What strategy will we choose to improve the experience? (Included in this might be “how will we learn from the Experience Community about all of the potential solutions we have to choose from?”)
Once you are clear about the people who you plan to help and the way their experience will be better through this innovation, you can decide if the motive for the innovation is a healthy one.
So, how do I define Experience Innovation? Amazingly, even after a year of thinking about it, the complete definition is still coming into focus. The more time I spend at The Beryl Institute, the more I am excited by the nuances of both language and operationalization required to describe it. My hope is to share my personal definition of Experience Innovation at my 2-year anniversary with The Beryl Institute!
For now, what I know for sure, is how to define what constitutes the spine of Experience Innovation. Before we can innovate in any meaningful way, we must, like vertebrae, connect motive to people and people to action. I visualize this as “the Backbone of Experience Innovation.” When healthy, this is what makes innovation strong, enabling it to move nimbly forward. I define this backbone as being:
Thoughts, actions and designs driven by a deep understanding of the lived experiences in healthcare that result in improvements created to address the most urgent needs.
Tiffany Christensen, CPXP
Vice President, Experience Innovation
The Beryl Institute