Capturing the Patient Voice: <br>Part 2

When patients need a passport

In Capturing the Patient Voice – Part 1, we explored how to facilitate greater patient engagement in a health care setting. We also illustrated how capturing the patient voice for organizational improvement leads to tremendous benefits, including improving patient safety, increasing staff and patient satisfaction, and generating revenue. However, many health care organizations have been slow to realize the importance of a Patient-Family Partner Program. Why?

For health care professionals the medical environment is normalized, and this contributes to a considerable bias, which translates into how they care for patients. Substantial research indicates that implicit, or unconscious, bias among health care professionals contributes to health disparities and inequities in health care every day. Furthermore, for patients who are not health care professionals, physicians may as well be speaking a different language.

Ann Hagensen, an RN and patient relations project manager explains, “Many people never expect to come to the hospital, except for when they have a child, or maybe break a bone. When most patients find themselves in the hospital, it is often without warning, and the trauma of receiving a diagnosis of illness or experiencing a life-altering injury is usually compounded by the foreign-sounding medical terminology, procedures, and medication names used.”

Additionally, long hours and high patient volumes create a stressful work environment for health care professionals where the pressure to “get through” seeing all of their patients in a day is high. In the process of delivering medical care, the human-to-human connection and engagement is often overlooked.

In order to provide high quality care health care professionals must work to correct this trend by connecting with their patients, practicing active listening when capturing their needs, and speaking in a language that a non-health care professional can understand. These are value-added elements of patient care. Prioritizing patients, means partnering with them in all health care decisions. It also means inviting them to share their perspective, with every level of the health care organization – from staff in the waiting room to executives in the board room.

The role of leaders in driving change

Making that first step towards this greater vision can be daunting from an organizational standpoint. Proactively seeking feedback, and learning to see its value – an opportunity for improvement – requires acknowledging fears as well as defining expectations and goals. The vision, to create partnership roles with patients and encourage them to share their perspective, benefits everyone involved. When health care teams are empowered create partnership opportunities with patients and families they change the culture and improve and transform the delivery of care.

Leadership, in particular, can accelerate organizational adoption of improvement methods by becoming a visible champion of the programs or methods themselves. The learning and positive changes that transpire as a result will inspire others to seek feedback, as well. Greater transparency will signal to staff members that finding mistakes or defects is not to be feared but praised. Leaders also play an instrumental role in removing barriers for staff to effectively put new approaches into practice.

Inviting patient-family partners to share their patient experience will stimulate creative thinking and breakthrough innovation throughout the health care organization. This type of partnership tells the patient that their health care team wants to have an open dialogue, not just about their health, but about their health care, and to learn from their perspective along the way. As one patient-family partner at Virginia Mason shared, “The dialogue was so rich and the values of trust, caring and compassion were felt so strongly. It was an outstanding experience.”

Creating a culture to better hear to and capture our patients’ voices

At Virginia Mason, every board meeting begins with a patient-family partner sharing a patient story. Half of these stories highlight positive experiences, while the other half are accounts of where a patient’s experience fell short, and all explain in detail how and why. Although it was not easy at first, in time, staff at Virginia Mason felt more empowered to capture these patient stories. They learned that the patient perspective provided them with concrete ways to improve their work processes and their patients’ experiences. They began to experience more gratification and satisfaction in their work.

When you change the culture of an organization to be more patient-centered, more respectful, and more transparent, it results in a better place to work for your staff, a safer place for patients to receive care, and a healthier, more profitable organization.

Virginia Mason Institute provides coaching and education to enable organizations to transform health care. Using the philosophy that is fundamental to Virginia Mason’s successes, the institute guides health care leaders worldwide to embed culture change through lean methods that empower organizations.

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