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In Healthcare, Experience Matters

Bridget Duffy at Gel Health 2009 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

In this guest post, Nick Dawson shares with us why “experience matters.”  Nick describes himself as “bridging the gap between healthcare operations and social media.” With more than 12 years of experience in hospital operations, he understands what makes healthcare tick. As the champion of a social media success story, Nick is the Director Community Engagement at Bon Secours Richmond Health System. In addition to those duties, he is also a Director on the Revenue Cycle team for the 14 hospital Bon Secours Health System. Nick blogs at NickDawson.net, and you can find him on Twitter @NickDawson.

For most of us, auto mechanics are a bit of a mystery. The oil light comes on, we drive to the dealership, they work some voodoo and we drive away under the impression that things are running smoothly under the hood. Unless you have the know-how, there isn’t a way to verify the quality of the work that is done. That is probably why savvy dealerships started offering fancy waiting areas – coffee, danishes, flat screen TVs and high speed Internet. If we can’t judge the craftsmanship, maybe we’ll make our service decisions based on the waiting experience. The interesting thing is that medicine is not much different.

I’ve written on my own blog about Bridget Duffy’s wonderful 2009 Gel Conference lecture before. In the talk, Dr. Duffy makes her point clearly, “Most patients want the high tech and a great quality outcome, but they can’t judge the quality of the [treatment]. They can judge the quality of the experience…” I often say that experience matters, and a double entendre that is two in two ways. First, we want to think we are taking our cars to a reputable service shop; the kind of place that does quality work. We also want to know that we are going to be well taken care of. Does it make a difference to the car if you are greeted by name, offered a nice place to wait and kept well informed about the work being done? Well, in a way, I think it does.

In healthcare, experience matters. We all want to believe that the person sticking the needle in our arm is skilled and qualified. You wouldn’t voluntarily go under the knife with a surgeon you didn’t have the utmost confidence in. Much to the consternation of some industry senior leaders I know, I submit that technical skill is an expectation for patients. Everything else positive about at the healthcare experience is often sadly the exception, not the expectation.

To illustrate the importance of the entire experience, think about something relatively simple like an annual physical. Does your doctor take the extra few minute to greet you by name and inquire about you as a person? There is an often quoted section of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point where he examines the length of time physicians spend with patients verses medical malpractice suits. The difference of as little as one extra minute spent with a patient makes a dramatic reduction in the number of suits and even complaints that the sample study sawfound. The dots isare not hard ones to connect. The at extra minute is probably not some magical exam or test that only a few doctors know about, it is a moment of real human interaction.

A few weeks ago I was working late and walking through the hospital around six o’clock in the evening. (I like roaming around patient areas at that time of day. It is quiet, the hustle of hundreds of folks moving about their daily activities settles into a low background hum.) On this particular day, I passed a mother and teenage daughter waiting in our outpatient diagnostic area. The daughter lay with her nearly six foot frame scrunched up on a love seat with her head on her mother’s lap. They had that “we’ve been waiting a while” look. I took a quick detour through the emergency room where we keep a warming cabinet with soft blankets and pillows. Without a word, I quietly entered the waiting area, offered the pillow to the girl’s mother and gently draped the blanket over her body. Did that small act make a difference in the outcome of the diagnostic test or clinical procedure? Well, in a way, I think it did.

According to Dr. Duffy, when organizations make the patient experience their number one goal everything else follows – improved outcomes, increased revenue, market share, reduced errors, etc. Patient experience is an easy thing for every person in a provider organization to relate to. Imagine being in a meeting and being able to ask everyone at the table “what part of this plan do you play and how does that support an awesome patient experience?” If car dealers can do it, why can’t providers?

It is time to put the providing the best, most compassionate, experience first.

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5 responses to “In Healthcare, Experience Matters”

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  2. Nick


    Absolutely: patient experience is key – not only in garnishing a positive impression for the provider, but for the overall health of the patient.

    Here’s the thing: not only is taking the time a part of good “customer service”, it’s actually a very important part of the clinical service.

    Why? Well for one, every moment with patients is a chance for assessment. Competent doctors and nurses are always assessing their patients, and those assessments don’t need to be of the clinical kind: they can be of the more intimate kind.

    As someone who practiced at the bedside, I can’t imagine how or why any clinician would skip the chance to know their patients better with a simple: “How are things?”


  3. Thanks Phil!
    I think we’ve only begun to scrape the surface on this one. I love your comment about opportunity for assessments and their value in clinical are.

    In the emotional and holistic sense, there seems to be tremendous value caring for the “entire patient” – that is to say, when you look after someone’s emotional wellbeing, there is a direct correlation to clinical outcomes.

    Thanks for the great clinical insight!


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