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Balancing act: Sustaining patient experience efforts

Posted Jul 12 2012 9:56am

by Jason A. Wolf

Over the past few weeks, many people have asked how I believe the U.S. Supreme Court opinion would impact patient experience. Now, two weeks after the decisions, as it was two weeks before, I am encouraged to find people less worried about "if" patient experience matters and more focused on "how" to ensure it does.

In a recent blog , I suggested that patient experience is a central and driving force to a continuously improving global healthcare system and that it starts with a simple choice.

The choice is to put a stake in the ground around the role of patient experience leader and the rapidly expanding field of patient experience.

But while these choices have all moved the patient experience cause forward, the question that remains is what will support the sustainability of these efforts? My exploration of sustaining high performance in healthcare suggests this is a balancing act in which leadership, people and an organization's culture play an integrated and critical role.

Consider these three balancing acts to move from the power of choice to the energy of sustaining outcomes.

The balancing act for leaders: informing and inquiring
Leaders must keep the organization informed of key strategies and direction, and transparently share information critical to the heartbeat of the organization. They also must recognize the power of diverse and broad input by questioning and seeking information. The power of effective leadership in sustaining performance is to incorporate the voices of many in driving continuous outcomes. The leader able to manage this delicate shift from directing to asking will create more informed, more engaged and more energized organizations.

The balancing act for people: individualism and collaboration
There is much to be said for the concept of "the right people on the bus," which is ensuring we have more than just the right skills, but that we have the right fit of people in an organization. Yet, simply having a collection of the "right" individuals does not ensure sustaining efforts. It is the ability of these individuals to think and more importantly act collectively and collaboratively that drive performance. Especially in healthcare, collaborative efforts can be one of the greatest strengths in differentiating your organization and driving outcomes.

The balancing act for culture: consistency and agility
Organizations seem to strive these days for clarity in mission, vision and values. These structures help shape the foundation on which the culture of an organization is built. All too often they only become signs on a wall. Sustaining performance is about bringing life to these ideas while recognizing that organizations today must act with agility--the ability to rapidly reconfigure, respond and resolve issues in a moment's notice. If one trumps the other, your purpose becomes too rigid or your organization may lack clarity in direction. This is the most crucial of balancing acts as culture sits at the core of the definition of patient experience itself.

As my research shows, sustaining performance is not about checklists or prescribed tactics. These are static and passing acts. Rather it is about commitment and focus; it is about making a choice to act, to move from the "if" to the "how." The very opportunity for sustaining patient experience efforts may be in the word movement itself. It is grounded in the fundamental idea that patient experience is not an initiative to be prioritized as part of a list of strategies vying for resources and attention. It has much greater importance in our healthcare system today.

Instead patient experience is about ongoing action. It is part of the fabric of healthcare and should be woven into every effort you take on as a healthcare organization. In focusing patient experience on the art of balancing versus simply an end to be "achieved," you guarantee it is an integrated part of who you are as an organization every day. Your patients, families and communities deserve no less.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is executive director of The Beryl Institute , where he specializes in organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.

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