As a child, Michelle Taylor Smith spent a lot of time in hospitals. “I remember waving my parents away with tears … because there was closed visitation, because of rules,” she recalled. The experience motivated Taylor Smith, who’s now vice president of patient care services, chief nursing officer and chief experience officer at Greenville Health System. “You can’t really get better when, emotionally, you’re out of alignment,” she said, emphasizing that we have the building blocks to improve the patient experience – we just need to figure out how to use them. She was drawn toward her work because “as a child and as life evolved, that’s what I looked for, what was important to me.”
During “Improving the Patient Experience,” part of the U.S. News Hospital of Tomorrow forum, experts discussed how they provide the best clinical care and emotional support to vulnerable patients – an effort that includes hospital and health care executives, physicians, nurses and anyone else who interacts with patients and their families.
Among the highlights of the discussion:
- “We’ve come such a long way from just being a place where sick people go to get better,” said Thomas M. Gronow, chief operating officer at University of Colorado Hospital. As he reflected on what he’s proud of at his institution, he described the hospital’s transition to becoming a learning institution. “How do we reflect on the patient experience, and where are we sharing those experiences?” he said, adding that that means talking about key experiences and then championing them so staff members can learn from what’s working well and how they can “do better than yesterday.” “There’s a whole infrastructure that goes around that, but it starts with the premise that you have to be a learning organization if you’re going to improve. It gets down to asking the smart questions around, why is our experience the way it is, why did this patient who had the same exact procedure have a markedly different experience than this other patient who had a wonderful experience?”
- Taylor Smith said we have to have “some sort of consistency” when we work toward improving the patient experience. Greenville Health System emphasizes accountability, commonality and standardization. “If I’m going to call every patient by their name, or ask what I can do for them – whatever it is, stakeholders need to know they can expect the same type of care,” she said. She added that that includes ensuring patients don’t wait three months to schedule an appointment or receive biopsy results. Staff at her institution is committed to “reducing patient suffering,” and making sure they have the best experience possible, whatever that may mean, since it varies person to person.
- Lisa Allen, chief patient experience officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine, is a cancer survivor – and seeing things from a “horizontal position” was “transformative” in her journey to improve patient experience. She spoke to the importance of understanding patient needs – and engaging front-life staff in problem-solving so they become invested in why things failed or succeeded, and working to improve those factors. Allen later emphasized the importance of including the patient voice. “There’s great bias toward educated people who answer surveys,” she says, which leads to a missing voice. “We’re designing programs based on who we hear from,” which is why it’s important not to simply rely on surveys and to use many different alternatives to capture the widest array of patient voices. Allen described specific initiatives like a Health Buddy program, which pairs patients with a professional who, for example, assists in the critical weeks after discharge, and access to coaches to help patients through various care transitions.