Fall 2014Feature articles

Taking compassionate care to the next level

Medical treatment + warmth, helpfulness, communication = the exceptional patient experience

Imagine that you’ve decided to visit a restaurant where the food is said to be superb. And the moment you take your first bite, you’re in gastronomic heaven! Yet, when the evening is over, you vow never to return. Why? Because the parking was atrocious, your reservation was misplaced, your waiter was grumpy and your bill was miscalculated. As good as the meal was, the whole experience left a bad taste in your mouth.

Much the same is true for health care. Even if the medical treatment is fine, no patient should have to put up with a secretary who mixes up appointments. Or a doctor who won’t take the time to properly answer questions. Or a clinic where no one picks up the phone. Or a meal tray that’s delivered to a patient’s room without a smile or a greeting.

Even institutions like the Jewish General Hospital, where compassionate care has been a mainstay for 80 years, are recognizing that high-quality care means paying attention to every aspect of what the patient encounters, from parking to housekeeping to security. That’s why, in order to coordinate and focus the hospital’s efforts, the JGH is establishing an Office of the Patient Experience, whose goal is to ensure that treatment and care are enhanced by everything and everyone with whom the patient comes into contact.

“In the end, all of these factors have an impact on the patient’s medical condition,” says Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, the JGH’s Executive Director. “When you arrive in the hospital, if you’re already upset about not being able to find your way, or that it took three days for someone to pick up a telephone, it puts into a play a number of negative emotions or feelings that colour the experience that you’re going to have.

“Therefore, it makes good sense for us to do whatever we can to offer what I call ‘the exceptional patient experience’ to optimize what patients and their families go through. Every time a patient connects with the hospital, each of those touchpoints defines the patient experience. It isn’t just how we treat people as patients; it’s how we organize and structure and provide for the whole experience whenever anyone interacts with the hospital.”

Dr. Rosenberg notes that it’s up to every member of staff to create this experience for the patient, “starting with the people who are in the parking lot or opening the front door, the people who keep the place clean, the people who deliver food from the kitchen, whoever it may be—anyone the patient may interact with, or anyone who can have an impact on the patient’s interaction with the institution.”

Foremost in advocating the patient experience is the Dallas-based Beryl Institute which, since 2006, has served as an independent focal point for healthcare providers to exchange information, encourage active participation and expand the impact of this approach. According to the Beryl Institute, the patient experience is defined as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.”

In recent years, the concept has been gaining momentum in some American hospitals, notably the Cleveland Clinic, where the very first Office of the Patient Experience was established, and where JGH representatives were among the delegates this past May at the 5th Annual Patient Experience Summit on Empathy and Innovation.

As the Cleveland Clinic’s speakers explained, the ultimate goal of their Office of the Patient Experience is not just about making patients happy; rather, it’s about finding new ways of ensuring that care is safe and of high quality. Ideally, the result will be an optimal experience for the patient, as well as greater efficiency for the hospital.

The delegates were also advised that enhancing the patient experience is a crucial means of re-affirming the concept of patient- and family-centred care, including its key elements of information-sharing, collaboration, patient participation, and meeting the need for dignity and respect. As one speaker put it, “For health care to truly improve health, the patient must become part of the system, and not merely have input into the system.”

“We’re taking what we do to the next level,” says Dr. Rosenberg, “to make sure that what we want to achieve happens not by chance, but by design. This is more than treating patients in a compassionate way. It’s about caring for them as people and giving them a complete experience that goes beyond the therapy that they’ve come here to get.”

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