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The Hidden Patient Experience

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   January 06, 2016

How well-meaning and clinically unimportant actions can make or break the patient experience, and how leaders at Cleveland Clinic and Mount Sinai Health System are refocusing efforts.

K. Kelly Hancock

During her hospital's monthly executive leadership rounds, Cleveland Clinic's executive chief nursing officer, K. Kelly Hancock, MSN, RN, NE-BC, met a patient who didn't seem quite happy, despite his insistence that everything was OK.

"We could just tell that he was a bit hesitant in his answers," Hancock says. So before she and her fellow executives left him, they probed a little more, asking, "Are you sure there's nothing else we could do to make your experience better?"

Actually, something was bothering him. Someone had come in to change his gown, and instead of addressing him by name, such as Mr. Smith, they called him "honey" and "sweetie."

"For him, he was offended," Hancock says.

It may have seemed like a small thing, but it really rubbed him the wrong way, and totally colored his experience as a patient. It was clear that it had been bothering him for quite some time.

"You've really got to dig when you're with the patients and the families," Hancock says. "What's important to that patient [is something] you may miss."

Clinicians might check off all of the important clinical boxes when caring for a patient, but it's often the small—perhaps nearly imperceptible—nonclinical elements of a hospital stay that most affect whether a patient has a good experience.

"I think that patients come to us expecting to get really good clinical care," agrees Sandra Myerson, MBA, MS, BSN, RN, senior vice president and chief patient experience officer at New York's Mount Sinai Health System. "The only way they can really judge us is on the rest of it."

With all the effort, money, and attention that's currently being paid to the patient experience, it's important for clinicians to understand how to get to the real heart of how a patient is feeling, and to do it in real-time.

Digging in
Beginning this year, Cleveland Clinic will be starting a program in which providers, such as nurses and physicians, will actually shadow patients during their inpatient stay or outpatient visit to better understand "what their experience is through their lens." Hancock says she's "really excited" about the program and can't wait to start it, adding that they think that "it's important enough that it's clearly worth the investment to take those caregivers offline."

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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