In my role as a breast cancer surgeon and director of a breast care center, I have developed a vested interest in ensuring that each patient receives comprehensive, patient-centered care and a positive care experience. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is a core component of competitive strategy in today’s healthcare environment. I can also attest from my own journey as a patient how important the care experience is to overall well-being and recovery.
A recently published systematic review demonstrated that patient experience was positively associated with patient safety and clinical effectiveness across a wide range of disease areas, clinical settings, population groups and outcome measures. The findings provide strong evidence for including patient experience as a core component of healthcare quality.
It may be important to further define “patient experience”. Patient experience is not about making healthcare into Disney World or the Ritz Carlton. Rather, patient experience gets to the core of our values in healthcare. It means providing care that is free from harm, minimizes redundancy and waste, allows timely access to needed services, follows best practices, and incorporates patients’ preferences and treatment priorities. The following are four proven strategies for ensuring this type of exceptional care experience.
Communicate: Communication is the cornerstone of excellence in patient care. Our communication should be timely, transparent, and tailored to each patient's understanding. It is through our communication that we can also convey empathy and compassion. Never underestimate the power of saying the right word at the right time. The goal is to produce a high-quality interaction during which patients feel valued, listened to, and receive clear explanations. Studies have shown that simply sitting down at the bedside with a patient, instead of standing, improves patient satisfaction, physician-patient interactions and patients’ understanding of their condition.
Accommodate: If communication is the cornerstone of excellent patient care, then our ability to accommodate the needs of our patients is the central pillar. This includes ensuring coordination of care services, easy and convenient healthcare, clean and quiet healing environments, attentiveness to symptom management and supportive care. The focus is providing patient-centered care, where every aspect of the health system is optimally designed to be of service to our patients. To be successful, we must incorporate patients into our care design committees in order to truly build systems that meet their needs.
Respect: Showing respect for our patients’ values, preferences and treatment goals is the foundation of trust and rapport. Treat patients with dignity, be sensitive to cultural values, and honor patients’ autonomy. We should strive to involve patients in decision-making by seeking their input. Respect is also demonstrated by asking patients how they would like to be referred to, and showing consideration with sensitive information in shared rooms. We are guests in out patients’ lives, and should act accordingly.
Engage: Empowering our patients to be engaged in self-care is paramount to improving clinical outcomes. When we educate and engage patients about their conditions, they not only show superior outcomes, but also greater satisfaction with care. Even the act of verbally explaining the process of care to patients leads to improved treatment adherence and reduced anxiety.
Finally, engagement also refers to the role of healthcare professionals in care transformation. Meaningful innovations in healthcare will come from those of us on the front lines of patient care. We all have the responsibility of transforming healthcare into what we know it needs to be for our patients. Real change lies with individuals, not institutions. It will require all of us working together on this common purpose. Together we can transform the patient experience and ensure that each patient receives exceptional patient care.
Ted James, MD, MHCM is a clinical chief, medical director and professor of surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. Dr. James also serves as a physician coach and healthcare speaker for Studer Group.