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Driving Practice Growth by Restoring Humanity to Healthcare


In an era that challenges healthcare organizations to do more with fewer resources, patient experience is often considered an add-on. However, in an increasingly competitive environment where patients have more information and freedom to choose, physician practices can no longer solely focus on stripping out waste and reducing costs.

M. Bridget Duffy, MD

In an era that challenges healthcare organizations to do more with fewer resources, patient experience is often considered an add-on. However, in an increasingly competitive environment where patients have more information and freedom to choose, physician practices can no longer solely focus on stripping out waste and reducing costs. Instead, they must create compassionate and seamless journeys of care—from first impression to last. As a growing body of evidence points to the human experience as a key driver for patient satisfaction, clinical outcomes, and financial performance, group practices must integrate traditional approaches to efficiency and quality with a culture focused on communication, trusted relationships and collaboration. Building this infrastructure and creating market differentiation requires a commitment to 5 core imperatives.

1. Align experience with quality and safety strategies. Under new reimbursement models, the success of a physician practice is dependent on its ability to engage patients and deliver high-quality care that also meets patients’ physical, emotional, and communication needs. Faced with the urgent need to improve quality, reduce costs and maximize reimbursement, many practices have implemented efficiency methodologies, such as Lean and Six Sigma as well as quality and safety checklists. When used effectively, these methods can improve patient flow. However, they fail to focus on some of the greatest barriers to quality care, including fragmented communication, disjointed care coordination, broken relationships, and unaddressed emotional and social needs. Rather than treating experience as a parallel initiative—separate from quality, safety, and performance improvement—successful organizations align these efforts to reduce initiative fatigue and return care teams to purpose. Those groups that hold themselves accountable for achieving an ideal staff and patient experience as they would quality and safety metrics will create market differentiation and drive lasting loyalty and growth.

2. Focus on the Quadruple Aim. Emerging studies show that patients choose healthcare resources based on personal experience and recommendations. However, widespread provider burnout and job dissatisfaction can significantly impact patient satisfaction and have been shown to reduce health outcomes and increase costs. Leaders must address this escalating issue of burnout and identify processes and technology solutions that will enhance the wellbeing and efficiency of staff. By focusing on the quadruple aim, this strategy restores joy back to the practice of medicine while making improvements in population health, experience of care, and per capita cost. Something as simple as better communication tools can positively influence working relationships, job satisfaction, and collaboration, which in turn impacts patient care and safety. Organizations demonstrating true commitment to improving the work life of providers will make investments in process and technology solutions needed to ensure that all employees are able to achieve peak performance.

3. Infuse the voice of patients and families. Growing and sustaining a strong patient base is a core business goal for most physician practices. Therefore, it is important to understand market trends as well as patient needs, expectations and goals. Successful organizations listen to the voice of patients to understand what they need to heal and engage them before they arrive and after they leave. By using high-touch approaches with high-tech solutions, clinicians can proactively capture patient feedback to discover preferences and address potential gaps in care delivery. For many patients, an optimal healthcare experience can start with a "sacred moment" on admission whereby a nurse simply asks about the patient’s concerns and expectations. One organization in Kennett, MO implemented this approach, with a physician leading the charge, and significantly increased patient satisfaction and willingness to recommend. Healthcare providers who are experience-focused continuously collect patient input, integrate patients and families in improvement projects, and tap into social media and other emerging resources for added insight and connection to the communities they serve. Organizations that address both the emotional and clinical needs of their patients will differentiate themselves and create loyalty.

4. Map the gaps in efficiency plus empathy. Instead of focusing solely on cost reduction and efficiency, leading healthcare organizations concentrate on understanding gaps in the human experience and hardwiring evidence-based solutions that bridge these gaps. Experience mapping uses an efficiency plus empathy model that infuses the voice of patients, families, and staff to identify barriers in care. When mapping the gaps in the human experience of care, many organizations discover that communication is the No. 1 barrier. The Joint Commission also points to breakdowns in communication as an industry challenge and the leading cause of adverse events. Therefore, it is essential for healthcare providers to design the next standards of care that restore the human connection, return people to purpose, and create seamless patient experiences. Mapping the gaps in efficiency plus empathy provides valuable information about how to create ideal experiences and create loyalty by drilling down to what matters most for each stakeholder. In doing so, care teams can create national Always Events®, which are aspects of care that should always occur when patients and families interact with a healthcare provider.

5. Put science behind the human experience of care. At the intersection of technology and humanity, there are many innovative solutions transforming healthcare. In 2014, The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) recognized the practice of recording discharge instructions as an Always Event, an accolade that the “sacred moment” on admission also received. As physician practices, hospitals and health systems implement these human-centered innovations, they will be required to measure their impact on quality and safety metrics, patient satisfaction, and clinical outcomes. Pioneer organizations recording discharge instructions have reported significant increases in patient satisfaction as well as decreases in readmission rates. To accelerate a scientific agenda focused on the human experience of care, a growing group of industry thought leaders are researching and sharing best practices to improve communication, patient and family engagement, staff resiliency, and many other key drivers. To stay ahead of ever-evolving healthcare trends it is important for physician practices to collaborate with other industry leaders to avoid reinventing the wheel and help set the next standards of care.

M. Bridget Duffy, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer for Vocera Communications, Inc., the leading provider of real-time, intelligent communication solutions for mission-critical mobile environments. Dr. Duffy is also the Cofounder of ExperiaHealth and the Experience Innovation Network, which helps organizations rapidly design and deploy innovations that restore the human connection in healthcare while improving clinical outcomes and patient, staff and physician loyalty. Dr. Duffy can be reached at bridget.duffy@vocera.com.

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