This article appears in the February 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Any story that attempts to discuss ways to improve the patient experience should attempt to define it, because there is ample confusion in healthcare, even among otherwise highly competent leaders, about what patient experience actually is.
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It isn't providing excellent quality healthcare—at least not totally. A basic assumption by patients is that when they receive a medical intervention, the actual medical care will be excellent. Rather, patient experience is much more comprehensive, even encompassing patients' feelings about the hospital brand and their "stickiness," that is, their loyalty.
Our own HealthLeaders Media survey on patient experience in 2009 showed how difficult it was for hospital and health system senior leaders to define the term: 34% chose "patient-centered care," 29% selected "an orchestrated set of activities that is meaningfully customized for each patient," and 23% said it involved "providing excellent customer service."
The rest agreed that the patient experience meant "creating a healing environment," was "consistent with what's measured by HCAHPS," or was something "other" than the aforementioned options.
Sounds like patient experience encompasses just about everything except, possibly, the clinical care itself.
That's just about right, says James Merlino, MD, Cleveland Clinic's chief experience officer. The wide-ranging view of what constitutes patient experience used to be perplexing, he says, but the correct answer for him and for many others who are looking to improve is that it's "all of the above."
"When I took over this role, we suffered from the same problem as everyone else. In order to fix it, you have to define it," he says. Rather than defining patient experience success as performing well on standardized measures such as HCAHPS or other metrics, Merlino and the Cleveland Clinic leadership team went the other way.