As a hospital executive, you’ve probably heard the words “patient experience” so much over the past few years that it’s now a regular part of your everyday vocabulary. So you know the push for improving patient experiences isn’t just a passing fad, but rather a hospital priority that’s being tied to performance reviews and bonuses. But how are U.S. hospitals doing when it comes to improving patient experience?

The answer: Just so-so.

A 2011 study by The Beryl Institute, The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals, found that patient experience is a top priority for hospital executives. So much so that it’s now on par with quality, safety and financial performance.

The purpose of the study was to determine what approaches hospitals are taking to improve the patient experience, learn who is responsible for these initiatives and what roadblocks there are to their progress.

Patient experience definition

Does your hospital have a specific definition for that key term “patient experience”?

If it doesn’t, you’re not alone. Of the 790 individuals from 660 healthcare organizations who responded to the study, only 27% said they had a formal definition of “patient experience,” 58% didn’t have one and 15% didn’t know.

The study defines patient experience as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perception across the continuum of care.” The institute created the definition to help hospitals more effectively address patient experience and clarify where their efforts can be aligned.

But while one in four hospitals didn’t have a formal definition, 69% of respondents said they did have a formal structure in place to address patient experience and 58% said they had a formal mandate to address it. This shows that while most hospitals haven’t defined what they consider to be “patient experience,” most are working toward the concept of improving it and taking action toward it.

The reason you should create a formal definition is if you don’t define it, how will you know if you are:

  • focusing on the right thing
  • moving in the right direction, or
  • making progress toward what you want to achieve?

Making positive progress

Despite not all hospitals having a clear focus, the majority  (86%) feel they’re taking positive actions to address the patient experience.

So how are they  making this positive progress?

Nearly half (42%) are doing it through a committee whose primary responsibility is improving patient care and is directly accountable for it. Others (14%) are putting it in the hands of the hospital’s CEO/COO, and still others have created a patient experience leader (13%) or service excellence director (10%) to spearhead the initiative.

To get an idea of what hospitals were doing to improve patient experience, the survey asked respondents to list their organization’s top three priorities. Their top three overall responses were:

  • reduce noise
  • discharge process and instructions, and
  • patient rounds.

While the survey didn’t ask why these were a priority, it’s fairly easy to see — they’re tangible activities that are easier to identify and act upon. Other responses were staff responsiveness, which the institute points out touches on the behavioral side of patient experience improvement efforts.

Other activities which were identified as key components of the respondents’ patient experience efforts were:

  • staff training programs
  • making follow-up calls after discharge
  • rapid response/service recovery programs
  • creating and sharing a performance scorecard, and
  • internal process review and design.

Drivers and roadblocks of success

So what do hospitals need to succeed in improving patient experience?

The answer to that question is easy. They need your support. Seventy-two percent of the study respondents identified “strong, visible support from the top” as the No. 1 key to achieving successful patient experience. The second with 54% of respondents picking it was “having clinical managers who visibly support patient experience efforts.”

So leadership is key to making progress with patient experience initiatives.

The No. 1 roadblock to making progress was “general cultural resistance to doing things differently.” Fifty percent of the respondents recognized how detrimental resistance to change can be.

The next two roadblocks hit on similar issues: 40% said “leaders appointed to drive patient experience are pulled in too many other directions” and 39% said “other organizational priorities reduce emphasis on patient experience.”

If leaders and hospitals don’t make improving patient experience a priory, it’s doomed to fail.

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