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4 Elements That Enhance Patient Experience

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   May 01, 2018

Positive moments involve four specific qualities and, by focusing on those elements, nurses can improve a patient's healthcare experience.

A few weeks ago, after returning home from the American Organization of Nurse Executive's annual conference in Indianapolis, I found an envelope addressed to my 6-year-old daughter in our mailbox.

Inside was a thank-you card from the health system where she had been hospitalized in March.

"Dear blank," the form letter began. I say "blank" because no one bothered to write my daughter's name in the space where it was supposed to be personalized. The card was symbolic of all that has been wrong with our monthlong healthcare saga.

Our experience had been a string of one frustrating, sometimes infuriating, moment after another. There had been inattention to detail, lack of listening, and poor care coordination (both clinically and administratively).

Coincidentally, AONE 2018's opening keynote presentation, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath, an expert in organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, focused on creating moments that can positively influence patient experience.

Promote peak experiences

In his talk, Heath points out that some experiences, or moments, have the power to jolt, elevate, or change a person.

The most memorable, positive portion of an experience is called a peak moment. Take for example, a trip to Disney World. When a person mentally revisits their time there, while there may have been crowds and lines, they are more likely to remember the way their child's face lit up with joy when they met Pluto. That is a peak moment that will be remembered for a lifetime.

"Peak moments matter," he says, "but the problem is we're not trained to build peaks, we're trained to fix problems."

In business, Heath says, research has shown that companies spend about 80% of the time fixing problems, and 20% of the time building peaks. That means for every hour spent on problems, only 15 minutes is spent on building peak experiences. Additionally, for every $1 made fixing a problem, $9 could be made by building a peak.

Four elements of peak moments

So how can nurse leadership build peak moments that will stick with patients for a lifetime and improve a patient's healthcare experience?

Related: Patient Experience is Bigger Than HCAPHS Scores

Peak moments contain some, or all, of the following four elements, Heath says.

  • Elevation—This element inspires a highly sensory experience, such as the birth of a new baby. It creates strong emotions such as joy, awe, or deep engagement. For example, at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, each time a baby is born the hospital operator plays Brahms' Lullaby over the intercom.
  • Insight—This element leads to a breakthrough. The breakthrough may not necessarily create moments of delight but can occur when someone has stretched themselves. Nurses are using motivational interviewing to give patients insight into personal motivations for changing behavior to promote health.
  • Pride—Many hospitals and healthcare organizations engage in meaningful recognition of staff through programs such as The Daisy Award. When nurses take pride in their work and it shows in their care practices, it can enhance patient experience. One study of 269 acute care hospitals found that compassion practices are significantly and positively associated with hospital ratings and a patient's likelihood to recommend.
  • Connection—This deepens the ties between people or groups and a sense of closeness and validation, and personalization occurs. In healthcare, we often call this patient-centered care. This is exactly why that thank-you card our family received missed the mark; it was generic and impersonal, and came across as insincere.

"If we embrace these elements," says Heath, "we can conjure more moments that matter."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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