Is “A” Patient Experience “The” Patient Experience?
March 10, 2017
When the communities where we work, live, and heal became about large groups of people, we began to talk in terms of collective, shared and agreed upon values, perspectives, and goals.
At the same time, we broke ourselves into demographics by age, income, education, ethnicity, and religion.
Similarly, healthcare has divided us by actuarial charts, risks of “like” persons, shared symptoms, and even our expectations.
Does the “group think” work for us in talking about the patient experience?
What Do Patients Have in Common?
The only thing patients have in common is that they are patients. Setting aside this circumstance, no other commonality may be found. At least not enough to make them all alike.
And, then came diagnostic related groups, known as DRGs. This is how we all became related. Because of age, our blood type, or some other test. Grouped again. However, we are not alike. At all.
Nonetheless, the patient experience movement has become large enough that the millions of minute dots that make up the map of patients using health care services wash into each other. And, here is where we all err, sometimes tragically.
The patient experience is lived one patient, one person, one story at a time. It is about acknowledging and celebrating the unique value of one patient whose life matters. Further, when sick enough to be in the hospital, the need to be restored to wholeness, to regain the integrity and sense of self is the strongest.
This is the point when organizational models, HCAHPS, and other surveys may be an insult. It is when generalizable conclusions diminish all that we need to heal into better and stronger state of health.
For these reasons, while lying in a hospital bed, those who root for us, who remind us of who we are, help us recover. We need to be a “someone” rather than an “anyone.”
My Own Patient Experience
Four years ago, during my own hospitalization for E Coli Septicemia, things were far from ideal. I was 400 miles from home, being cared for by people who did not know me (nor wanted to know me), and I was really sick.
After 10 miserable days, I was finally discharged and flew home. Over the next five days, I received three calls — each of which asked me about my experience. Twice, I started telling the caller what had happened. Each time, however, I was told that he/she was merely working at a call center — in XXXX city (miles from the hospital or physician).
They knew neither the physician nor the hospital. They could only pass the information to their supervisor. The third time, I hung up.
The story of how someone comes into the hospital is not an easily constructed template, nor is it separate from the hospital experience. For example, the “victim of an automobile accident” is a generic term, one that can describe a substantial number of people.
However, the term leaves out whether the other driver was drunk, texting, distracted, had a heart attack, or experienced equipment failure. It leaves out whether the driver was also the victim. It leaves out the family members that now must deal with a fractured future of uncertainty.
More important, it leaves out the patient’s perspective on what this whole incident means to his or her future. In fact, it leaves out everything that might help us respond appropriately and sensitively to this patient and family.
What Healthcare Providers Should Do
Healthcare providers must be careful to distinguish between patient experience regulations and performance measures and an actual human experience of being a patient. It’s a matter of caring, personal investment, professional skill, clinical excellence, and mission. Most of all, it is very personal to each patient.
Whole Person Care is about setting up a partnership between provider and patient so that patients can reclaim their sense of self, identity, values, and preferences. And, investing in the relationship authentically, making your care about this individual and this family palpable, is the only way to increase the chances that patients and families will invest in their own health.
Be aware that trying to regulate or script the humanity of your team and your own caring should not be as meaningless as an impersonal call from a call center.
Creating an environment that is authentically caring supports you and your team to be all that you and they are — one person at a time, one patient at a time, one day at a time.
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