Capturing the Patient Voice: <br>Part 1

What patients wish their health care team knew

Millions of patients seek medical care in the United States each day. Capturing the stories and experiences of these patients, understanding the delivery through their lens, represents a tremendous opportunity in health care. What if health care organizations could know what a patient was feeling and thinking along each point of their care experience, not just at the very end?

Through empowerment and solicitation of patient input, the patient experience can be fine-tuned, even perfected, and the patient is then treated as an equal decision-maker in their care. Alternately, this conditions the care team to welcome more feedback, understanding that each patient experience can provide them with specific opportunities to improve care delivery.

This concept can be extended much further through the development and implementation of a framework that facilitates partnership between health care providers and patients and their families. At Virginia Mason, a Patient-Family Partner Program was successfully implemented and has since yielded thousands of patient volunteer hours and has delivered benefits and improvements to a myriad of health care processes and components.

What is the patient voice?

The patient voice represents the real-life perspective of each and every patient that walks through your doors. The way in which they perceive the environment, the ease of processes and timeline of their care, how they are informed and included in their health care decisions, and what they feel when leaving to go home; these are all crucial components of the patient experience, and provide valuable insights to where improvements are needed.

Capturing the patient voice is essentially standing in the shoes of the patient and gaining a sense of what they experience when they come in for their care. One Virginia Mason Patient-Family Partner Program volunteer, Phil Fergusson, shared, “From a patient’s perspective, it is reassuring to observe and it creates trust that the health care system has patient care as the highest priority.”

By identifying problems to fix at the granular level, right away, teams can design and continually refine new, improved processes.

Employing the patient voice in process improvement

Patient engagement often yields unexpected and illuminating epiphanies; for example, capturing the total amount of time a patient spent waiting for appointments, labs tests, and pharmacy requests in a single visit may reveal opportunities to cut out duplicative processes and reduce that time by half. The result is a greatly improved experience for the patient and substantial reduction in overhead for the organization.

By streamlining processes, the organization can give patients their time back, as well as maximize the time and energy of health care staff. By identifying problems to fix at the granular level, right away, teams can design and continually refine new, improved processes. Is your staff providing patients with all of the important information, and providing sufficient options of how to proceed, at each point of their care? How do you know? These improvements may be the key to avoiding repeat hospital admissions, medical errors, or a dissatisfied patient.

The importance of listening

Capturing the patient voice is also essential to eliminating false assumptions. Having high levels of patient engagement in an organization improves overall communication between patients, families, and health care providers. When staff engage the patient to better inform processes they receive first-hand insight into what is actually important to patients during their visit, rather than making any presumptions.

An example, shared by one Virginia Mason physician, is, after spending an hour explaining a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer to a patient, the patient looked to the physician and responded, “After you said, ‘cancer’, I didn’t hear another word you said.” The physician was surprised to learn they had missed the mark on what the patient needed in the first five minutes of the meeting by not sufficiently respecting the gravity of the news on the patient. This feedback greatly motivated the physician to improve in the future, having now learned that ‘how’ information is delivered to a patient can in certain situations mean more than the ‘what’.

Capturing the patient voice opens the floodgates to know when the patient is feeling more vulnerable, lonely, worried, empowered or happy along their care journey. Their experience can help inform where improvements can be made along the way.

Cathie Furman, MHA, RN, is an executive sensei at Virginia Mason Institute. In her work in Seattle and worldwide, she helps health care executives and leaders understand how a lean method such as the Virginia Mason Production System can dramatically improve safety and quality. Prior to joining Virginia Mason Institute, Cathie was one of the executives who took Virginia Mason’s first trip to Japan to learn the benefits of using lean tools and a lean management system. After the trip, she and her executive colleagues led the initiative to adopt the Toyota Production System to health care. She also created and implemented the Patient Safety Alert SystemTM, a groundbreaking method to engage all employees to report any incident or situation that could cause harm to a patient. Cathie is certified in the Virginia Mason Production System®.

Capturing the Patient Voice: Part 2

Explore how organizations can implement sustained improvement by understanding the patient's perspective.

Continue reading

2 Comments

  • Shoshannah Palmanteer says:

    My Mother battled Stage 4 Colon Cancer for 3 years. I couldn’t imagine her going through all of her appointments, treatments, and surgeries without someone with her each time. She expressed many times how overwhelmed she would be without me there with her to remember questions she had after we left the last appointment, take down information for her, ask questions when I could tell she didn’t understand how things were being explained, make appointments, get her prescriptions filled, find the office where the appointments were at, etc.

  • Samantha Fryer says:

    I think the default way of “understanding the patient voice” is often to do satisfaction surveys, which don’t get at the true voice and likely just solicits the polar sides of the population. I appreciate the idea of having patient voice being built into the model so that it’s constant and patients might feel part of the solution as opposed to non-empowered bystanders.

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