Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

The Patient Experience As a Work of Art

September 4, 2015

dreamstime_m_9786864How many ways do we try to quantify and qualify the patient experience? HCAHPS and other satisfaction surveys are far from exact or even understandable.  We cannot fully understand or easily predict why any patient answers any particular question in any particular way.

Even the term “patient satisfaction” does not define the nature of being a patient. Nonetheless, physicians and nurses are pressured into “causing” the optimal experience. We set policies and protocols as to how patients are to be treated, and use HCAHPS scores for employee evaluation. As of today, it is clear we have yet to get this right or consistent.

I suggest that we take many steps back to look at the wholeness, the gestalt, of being a patient before delving into the details of what that may mean.

If we look at a work of art wholly created by an artist whose intention may or may not be obvious, we can find only the meaning we bring to it. And, the patient experience is, likewise, the sum total of all life and health events — hospitalization being only one of them.

Perception is informed by expectation. Expectation is informed by direct experience and prior knowledge from any number of sources. How can we expect hospital staff to know what this is for each patient?

If the patient experience is, indeed, akin to a work of art, then trying a one-size-fits-all image misses entirely that fact that one-patient-fits-no-other. Using our best efforts to individualize care, we still apply universal policies and collect universal data.

What do we know?

  1. Most people approach a hospital with high anxiety, feeling vulnerable
  2. Most people respond better to concerned kindness than to disregard or insensitivity
  3. Most people find that feeling safe relieves fear

These reactions apply to all human beings who enter any hospital. However, many of us have forgotten how easy it is to be nice in the midst of chaos.

A work of art has the meaning we bring to it, informed by our prior experiences. And, so it is with being a patient. We respond immediately to a beautiful painting or photograph of a rose. And, so it is how patients respond to loving kindness.

What kind of rose can we offer to those so vulnerable in our care?

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