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The Invaluable Gift of Clarity

Posted By Mark VanderKlipp, Friday, January 19, 2018

With the holiday season over, your thoughts have undoubtedly turned from gift giving and New Year’s resolutions to “getting back to daily life.” As you do so, I’d encourage you to consider a resolution to provide a gift to your staff, patients and their families that keeps on giving: clarity.

In over 30 years as a designer, I’ve seen clients focus more on the tool (the identity, communication, policy, wayfinding system, mobile app, architecture, etc.) than they do on the anticipated behaviors of the people that support or interact with those tools.

To be sure, these are critical elements designed to support any patient experience initiative. My goal in writing this post is to help you see the value of designing for human interactions (engagement, connection, expectation, interaction, enlistment, orientation, learning) as well as the tools themselves.

In a 2015 HBR article1, the authors assert that “with very complex tools, the design of their ‘intervention’—their introduction and integration into the status quo—is even more critical to success than the design of the tools themselves. The more complex and less tangible the designed tool is, the less feasible it is for the designer to ignore its potential ripple effects.”

For most healthcare employees and consumers, there is no more complex, less tangible experience than a bewildering, impenetrable and continually changing health care system. The tools created to help engender clarity need to be thoughtfully designed, tested and integrated to assure they don’t add to the stress, both for caregivers and patients.2

Here’s an example: a formerly independent hospital merges with a much larger faith-based institution. The wheels are set in motion to design tools to support this merger: internal and external brand communications, updated facilities, wayfinding signage, EMR systems, billing systems, relationships with insurers, ambulatory clinic networks, HR policies and procedures, the list goes on and on.

As a clinical or clerical provider, I need clarity:

  • As an ambassador for this new faith-based brand, ostensibly very different from the old one, how is my behavior expected to change?
  • Will I be able to help design the process to successfully navigate the transition?
  • As new tools are designed and integrated, how will I be prepared to use them?
  • How can I, in my day to day role, bring clarity to our patients and their families?

As a patient or community member, I need clarity:

  • How will this impact me? How will it benefit me?
  • How will expectations of me, as a patient or community member, change?
  • How will the organization help make the transition easier?
  • Will there be physical changes? Will I be able to park and enter in the place I always have?
  • Who will help me? Will the people I’ve come to know and trust still be there?

The gift of clarity establishes the roots needed to visualize, design and deliver a a human centered healthcare experience: to understand the potential points of confusion, then meet individuals at each step in their journey with simple, consistent and well-supported tools. Whether these are designed to support small initiatives or large-scale transitions, anticipating the “ripple effects” of human interactions is critical to achieving sustainable success.

Creating an effective caregiving culture happens by design, not by default. It’s up to us as practitioners to break down silos, see gaps in communications, then test and iterate the tools designed to bring clarity to the questions that our staff, patients and their families bring to this world of healthcare experience.

Truly, there is no greater gift we can give. Happy New Year!

1. Design for Action, Harvard Business Review, September 2015 by Tim Brown and Roger L. Martin
Creating a Culture of Health: Design that Goes Beyond the Mobile Application by Dr. Joyce Lee MD, MPH “Doctor as Designer “ @joyclee

Mark VanderKlipp is an experience and systems designer, working in human-centered graphic design for over 30 years. He helps clients visualize the systems within which they function, empowering staff to deliver an experience that’s clear, relevant and human. He previously spent 24 years with a world-class wayfinding design firm, 13 as its president, where he was the lead strategist for diverse assignments in healthcare, higher education, civic, corporate, trails and tourism throughout North America. Mark is a 1987 graduate of the University of Michigan. In 2012 he earned his evidence-based design certification (EDAC) through the Center for Health Design, and in 2017 became certified in Systems Practice through +Acumen. He is also a founding partner of the customer experience consulting firm Connect_CX.

Tags:  clarity  design  engagement  expectations  interactions  tools 

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The Power of Partnerships: Unifying Patients Relations and Patient Experience

Posted By Sarah Fay, MBA, Friday, March 10, 2017
Updated: Friday, March 10, 2017

We can all agree that in order to have a well-rounded view of patient experience, we cannot look solely at the information that comes back to us in our patient experience surveys – they are just one piece of a larger puzzle that make up an organization’s culture. And culture is what drives the experience…for everyone. I believe that we must look at data from several vantage points. Some of these, include: 

  • patient experience surveys
  • employee engagement surveys
  • physician engagement surveys
  • information gathered during executive and leader rounding
  • patient stories
  • key human resource metrics
  • feedback from our patient and family advisory councils
  • quality and safety data.

If we leave one vantage point out, we risk losing the complete picture. And this picture must include patient relations data as well.

I oversee patient experience for Southwest General Health Center, a long-standing 354-bed community hospital in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Last year, we merged our patient relations department with our patient experience department. Unifying these departments has not only helped me in my work – it has benefited our patients too.

The richness of the data collected by our patient representative is invaluable to developing and executing our patient experience strategy. By combining our patient relations data with our patient experience data, we have a well-rounded view of our patients’ perceptions. Trending our patient relations data is key to this.

  1. Trends helps us determine where we need to focus our efforts. The trends in concerns and complaints bring to light an area that we have an opportunity in, while the trends in compliments bring to light an area we can celebrate. When we combine these trends with our patient experience survey data, we are better able to prioritize our strategies, programs and celebrations.

  2. Trends help us pinpoint areas that need additional support. When we combine these trends with our patient experience survey data, I am able to hone in on areas, departments, units or individuals that may need specific training or one-on-one coaching. It also tells me where we need to focus our process improvement efforts. The trends in compliments show me areas, department, units or individuals that I can rely on to champion the cause. Those people can then help train and coach others.

  3. Trends help us conclude if the initiatives we have put in place on the front-end are working. Combining the patient experience survey data with the trends of both compliments and complaints, tells me if our programs and initiatives are having the intended outcomes. 

Our partnership extends beyond the data too. Our patient representative has a very unique skillset – one that I hope to transfer to the bedside through a robust service recovery program at Southwest General. With her distinctive skillset, she can help develop a program, train our staff and teach them how to embrace the skills necessary to handle concerns and complaints right at the bedside. This will shift her into a more proactive role and I believe that is the wave of the future.  

Sarah Fay, MBA, is the Director of Guest Experience at Southwest General Health Center in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. She may be reached at

Tags:  data  engagement  partnership  patient experience  patient relations  surveys 

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Language Matters

Posted By Wendy Leebov, Monday, August 25, 2014
Updated: Thursday, August 21, 2014

I’m struck daily by the fact that the words we use strongly influence our goals, strategies and outcomes. In my view, those of us determined to achieve breakthroughs in the patient, family and employee experience need to become more self-conscious about the words we choose, so that these words advance our cause, inspire people and accelerate improvement and transformation.

In the last few years, we’ve made very positive and far-reaching language shifts. Patient experience has replaced patient satisfaction. And employee engagement has replaced employee satisfaction. These language changes reflect and also drive progress.

Still, we are on automatic pilot with words. They pop out of our mouths, pens and keystrokes without much deliberation, and, when that happens, our words reflect our habitual thinking. This is a problem because our habitual thinking often limits our imagination, aspirations, goals and, therefore, our results.

Words That Reinforce Hierarchies and Pecking Orders

Some of our words reinforce the destructive pecking order and hierarchy that have discouraged the teamwork, partnership, collaboration and mutual respect we desperately need throughout healthcare.

  • Compliance vs Adherence: The term patient compliance implies that the doctor knows best, issues orders to the patient and expects the patient to obediently follow their direction. Adherence works so much better because we need to engage and partner with patients, co-develop a plan and, then, we certainly do want to help them adhere to it. We need to develop care plans with patients and families, not for them. Down with compliance! This word disempowers patients. We need engagement and partnership.
  • Super-User: Sure, it’s powerful to identify staff members who excel at certain skills and engage them in helping their colleagues strengthen these same skills. But must we call them "Super-Users”, which, in my view, implies a superiority? Why not "coach?” This is so much more descriptive of how we want to recognize and engage people in helping their peers sharpen their skills.

And how about health partner, care partner and care team instead of caregivers and caretakers?

Words That Narrow Our Scope

Then come the words that reflect a healthcare system of the past, not the present and future. Our language and our strategies have been hospital-focused, not person-focused, and illness-centered, not health-centered. Hospital-centricity encourages relative inattention to homes care, ambulatory care, wellness care, longterm care, health coaching, health education and much more.

How about transition plan, get-well action plan or recovery plan instead of discharge plan? Discharge plan is about what we are doing, not about what the patient is doing.

And the word patient itself is suspect. Is a newborn child a patient? Are her parents attending parenting classes at an outpatient center patients? Does my 96-year-old mother living at home see herself as a patient? When healthcare professionals teach a factory work team to lift in an ergonomic way, are these workers patients? No, and, in fact, they’re trying to avoid BECOMING patients. The term patient works in a healthcare system focused on making sick people well, but it does not work well to describe people who are well and who seek to maintain optimal health and prevent illness. Increasingly, I hope, people will rely on the healthcare system to help them achieve the best possible health, wellness and state of being possible for them throughout their lifetime. We need to focus on person experience, not just the patient experience.

Do we want people to view experiences like these as something a part from the healthcare system? People ARE having a healthcare experience; they are relying on us as members of their healthcare team. I think it’s time we help people see health, wellness and prevention in whatever setting as part and parcel of the healthcare system. Wellness care is what we need. Disease management is what we have. Disease management is for patients. Wellness care is for people.

And while patient and family-centered care is better than patient-centered care, person-centered care is even better.

Words That Impact Behavior in the Moment

Language even affects our behavior and empathy. I no longer talk about "difficult people.” I now think and say difficult-for-me-people or distressed people so I can approach people with loving-kindness, patience and compassion.

Language matters. That’s why my colleagues and I just renamed our company Language of Caring, LLC. We are fanatically committed to helping everyone in healthcare speak the language of caring so patients, coworkers, persons, or whatever you want to call people, feel our caring in every conversation and every interaction 24/7.

Wendy Leebov is a lifelong activist for creating healing experiences for patients, families and the entire healthcare team. She is internationally respected as a thought leader, healthcare executive, culture change strategist, coach and author who has helped hospitals, health systems and medical practices to achieve breakthroughs in the patient and family experience. Wendy is Managing Partner, Language of Caring, LLC.

Tags:  caring  engagement  healthcare  language  patient 

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