While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has urged healthcare organizations across the country to change the ways they evaluate the care they provide, arguably the most important measurement the ACA highlighted is the concept of the “patient experience.”
Unfortunately, the best way to define the patient experience is up for debate, and every individual involved in a patient’s care has their own perception of which factors should be considered when assessing treatment quality.
However, among the most comprehensive investigations into the idea of patient experience was a 2014 article published in Patient Experience Journal, “Defining Patient Experience.” In this study, Wolf, et al. identified four distinct themes that practitioners—especially nurses—can use to help define and guide the patient experience.
Below is a discussion of these four elements.
The Sum of All Interactions
During and after his or her hospital stay, a patient communicates with dozens of individuals, undergoes multiple procedures and is subject to hospital policies that may never be explained to him or her.
Although a nurse may view a patient’s journey through the hospital as a linear one (from admission to discharge), the patient’s perception may be the complete opposite. Thus, nurses and the rest of the care team must do their best to create a patient experience that is consistent and follows as much of a logical flow as possible.
Nurses should work to coordinate and align each touchpoint, supporting a “one experience” mindset. This approach is described as “integrated nature.”
The Culture of the Organization
Nurses must recognize the impact their hospital’s culture has on not only their own perceptions of the workplace but also how a patient feels about his or her surroundings. In other words, the nurse’s level of satisfaction affects his or her level of engagement, and the patient’s impression of this engagement will certainly affect their overall experience.
With these facts in mind, nurses should demand the ability to build a patient-centric culture that facilitates the provision of high-quality, personalized care, reliability and responsiveness. If a nurse does not feel supported in their efforts to incorporate the organization’s vision and values into each patient interaction, it will be reflected in the type of patient experience they can provide.
Patient (and Family Perceptions)
Though the perceptions of a patient and his or her family can be influenced by factors not within a nurse’s control (for example, belief systems, personal experience and cultural background), a nurse can influence the events the patient understands and remembers about their hospital stay.
Nurses must recognize that patients (as well as their families and members of their support network) are active participants in the patient’s treatment plan and have the ability to affect the patient experience. Therefore, they should be treated as partners as much as possible.
Encouraging the patient and his or her family to voice their concerns and be a part of discussions about the plan of care (as much as is reasonable) can improve not only the patient’s perception of their stay but also how involved the patient is with his or her treatment after being discharged.
Continuum of Care
While nurses may only be directly involved with a patient during their hospital stay (and possibly long-term treatment following the patient’s discharge), the patient experience encompasses all facets of the healthcare system, across the entire spectrum of care services—from non-clinical experiences to hospice care, among others.
Being available to field questions from a patient’s case manager or hospice care coordinator and offering recommendations allows nurses to be part of a positive patient experience long after the patient has left the hospital.
According to Wolf, et al., the most critical component common to all four of these themes is the need for “person-centeredness”. Person-centeredness is the recognition that both the care provider and the care recipient are human beings and that no process or procedure should overshadow the needs of the people involved in a patient’s treatment. Keeping in mind the importance of actively including patients and their families in the treatment plan, maintaining a culture of person-centeredness and acknowledging the broad nature of the overall patient experience can help nurses ensure they are providing the best experience possible.
Patient-centered care is an integral part of a positive patient experience. Learn how to implement patient-centered care at your hospital with our free guide, How Nurses Can Increase Satisfaction through Patient-Centered Care.