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Quality trumps size in patient experience

Posted Jan 24 2013 9:21am

by Jason A. Wolf

This week began with Inauguration Day. Regardless of political philosophy or preference, it is one of the most powerful examples of democracy at work with its symbolic representation of the freedom of choice. It also was marked by the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which has deep meaning for so many and reminds us all of the responsibilities we have for one another.

These powerful examples of choice and of caring also are rooted in the hearts of those in healthcare and guide the actions we take when addressing the healthcare experience for patients, families and peers.

In previous blog posts I have addressed the power of choice in ensuring the greatest experiences and the importance of our humanity in our considerations as we address this issue. While these are great in concept, they are simple in action.

In fact, with all the grand scale interventions, programs and processes many attempt to implement in addressing the overall experience, it is perhaps those quality individual moments and personal encounters that can have the greatest impact.

To put this in perspective, I'll use a non-healthcare and a healthcare example.

My most recent experience with the idea that quality interactions trump service programs came in an encounter with my cell phone provider. I travel often and spend a great amount of time on my phone. I had exceeded my minutes and was facing a particularly large overage fee. I called the provider and the service representative was quickly on my case, actively searching for a way to address the situation. While I could hear her furiously typing she also was engaging me in a discussion on my service, what questions I had and if there was anything else I needed.

Before we could even finish that discussion, she exclaimed, "Problem solved!" She had altered my plan so I could avoid overage charges for the month, rather than saying sorry there is nothing I can do or making me feel like they only wanted my money. Throughout the call I was cared for as an individual, and in the end I left the call wowed by the experience I was provided and a more loyal customer than when I dialed. We have that same opportunity for experience in healthcare.

In the latest paper from The Beryl Institute, Voices from the C-Suite: Perspectives on the Patient Experience, a similar story of personal initiative and care was shared. One that exemplifies many moments I have heard of in healthcare systems around the world. In this case, a family was expecting a baby, but only days before the due date the husband was admitted to the hospital with a significant illness. When the wife went into labor there was no way her husband would be able to join her. He was at risk of missing the birth of his first child.

A labor and delivery nurse quickly improvised; working with the IT team she was able to acquire two iPads with cameras, bringing one to the father-to-be and one to the wife in delivery. While only floors apart, but separated by illness, this nurse and the team brought together a new family, creating a moment that could be shared and a memory for a lifetime.

These examples are not the result of extensive organizational efforts; rather they are true examples of bringing together the freedom of choice and the opportunity to express care in our healthcare organizations. They represent the power that can be found in creating an organizational culture that supports individual action for what is right. More importantly, they reinforce that when driving towards patient experience outcomes, it is critical to focus on the ability to deliver on the little things above all else.

Patients and families are not wowed by the programs you put in place, what consultants you hire or what vendors you engage, though they can influence action and outcome. They are affected by the moments you create between people--sacred, personal encounters where they are made to feel human and recognized as individuals. These moments are about choice, they are about responsibility and they are about quality. With experience, what matters most may very well be the littlest things ... and that may be the biggest thing of all.

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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