The Patient Experience: What Matters?
March 7, 2014
In all of the writings about the patient experience, few ask the foundational question, “What matters?” While ambiguous and global, this question is primary to any experience as it defines our focus and our bottom line concerns in ways that details often miss.
If we asked ourselves what matters to us when we go to see the doctor, we might come up with the following list:
- The office is clean
- The staff knows who I am. I am treated as a person, not a number.
- I really get that what happens to me matters to the doctor
- The experience is not humiliating or cumbersome. Do I really have to take everything off?
- I leave feeling better than when I walked in.
These hypothetical responses are far from hypothetical. We have all thought about them. Having an identity to the person to whom we are entrusting our health is not only reasonable, but also vital.
One by one, what do these statements mean?
A clean office indicates intent to heal and treat. It reflects competence, expertise, and just about everything else about the skills of the clinician. What does an unclean office mean?
Who You Are
The staff knowing who you are means that you are not invisible, that they have a better shot at getting the correct medical records, and they care enough to know that coming to the doctor is hardly an everyday event for you.
Having what happens to you matter to the doctor makes it personal. It says that you are not part of a generic patient population or just a billing number.
And, again, if what happens to you does not have value to the person taking care of you, what ultimately does that say about the kind of care you will receive?
Taking off your clothes — all of them — in the doctor’s office has never been easy. Feeling vulnerable at the same time that you are feeling unwell or fear being unwell, is a double-layered hit to your own security.
Putting on a cold paper gown makes it worse. Waiting for the doctor with the door closed and hearing all the other activities makes us even more nervous.
Better or Worse?
The other side of an office visit, treatment, or medical intervention tells the tale that foretells the future. No, immediate relief may not happen. But, if you don’t feel hopeful or have an understanding of why you feel the way you feel, and are in control of how you process the experience, then you are going to be worse.
This is because once you see a doctor, there is no other place to go other than to another doctor.
So, the experience of being a patient is more than just being examined and treated. It is intimate and private; it yields us helpless to people we have never met before.
What’s called for is hardly clinical babble. We need acknowledgement, authentic concern, and consideration. And, above all, we need to know that we matter and that what happens to us matters.
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