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The Hidden Patient Experience

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   January 06, 2016

Sandra Myerson

"We know the best feedback is from the patient," Hancock says. "We think it really will lend itself to some great feedback to develop stronger interventions."

Shadowing could also help clinicians develop the empathy they need to really understand what patients are going through, and therefore, what they care about. Hancock says compassionate care is about being present, empathetic, and listening for key words that a patient uses that might clue clinicians into their emotions, and ultimately, their experience.

Use the right language
Hancock says it's important to meet patients where they are, and the shadowing project will very literally do that. By asking something as simple as "What's important to you during this stay?" clinicians might find out that the patient really wants his hair washed or face to be shaved. They're small things that can go a long way in providing dignity and comfort, but that may not be "important" clinically.

"We have to pay attention to those things that are concerning to the patient that we might not even think they should be concerned about," Myerson says. "We tend to be really task oriented."

Hancock says providing a template for talking about these nonclinical topics can help staff drill down into what's really important or worrying to the patient. In addition, engaging in role-playing exercises can help staff ensure that such conversations with patients happen naturally and without sounding scripted.

Myerson adds that training managers and other clinicians to ask certain open-ended questions, rather than yes-or-no questions, can elicit better responses. For instance, clinicians might ask "How did you sleep?" or "What got in the way of you sleeping well?" instead of "Did you sleep well?"

Another question that could be useful, especially if a patient is suffering, is "What's the worst part of this for you?" according to a new essay in JAMA. Asking such a question and "turning toward" suffering, the authors write, helps not only with the patient experience in the moment, but with overall, long-term healing in a way that straightforward diagnosis and treatment may not. It acknowledges that patients are whole human beings. It's also important to remember that clinicians are whole humans, too, and that these non-clinically focused interactions doesn't always come naturally. That's why they need training.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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