If you know me in a professional health communications capacity, you are likely familiar with my “professional crush” on Cleveland Clinic. I’ve written about the fantastic work they do in patient communications, and I truly believe that Cleveland Clinic is one of those organizations that just get it.
This belief was reaffirmed when I read about a new program being introduced at Cleveland Clinic this year that will have nurses and physicians “shadow” patients during inpatient stays or outpatient visits to better understand and appreciate the patient experience. This program was initiated by an experience Cleveland Clinic’s executive chief nursing officer, K. Kelly Hancock, had with a patient who, despite saying everything was okay, didn’t seem to be all that happy with his experience.
“Are you sure there’s nothing else we could do to make your experience better?”
It was this question—and the patient’s answer—that highlighted the need for enhanced education around how non-clinical actions can really make the difference in how a patient feels about his or her experience with a hospital or with specific care givers.
In this particular example, the patient felt like he was not being greeted appropriately (he would have preferred to be addressed as Mr.). But it doesn’t matter what a patient’s concern is. What matters is if he or she is uncomfortable with his or her experience as a patient, for any reason. If the patient has a problem, then you have a problem.
It’s not surprising that at the heart of lack luster patient experiences is poor communication. Of course, clinical outcomes are important and must be considered above how a patient is greeted, but too often, it’s the little things that get lost in the shuffle. An extra pillow. A hand to hold. A compassionate tone. Understanding. Asking open-ended questions can make a tremendous difference. Instead of “Did you sleep well?” ask “How did you sleep?” Hancock also notes that asking “What’s important to you during this stay?” can help you know what you can do better to improve a patient’s stay. Asking this question provides the opportunity to head off some (it’s unlikely that you will be able to catch them all!) things that may make a patient unhappy with his or her stay (outside of actual clinical procedures).
Regarding programs to improve the patient experience, Sandra Myerson, senior vice president and chief patient experience officer at New York’s Mount Sinai Health System, notes that “We have to pay attention to those things that are concerning to the patient that we might not even think they should be concerned about,” adding that clinicians can become very “task oriented.”
Likewise, an essay that appeared in JAMA last year suggests that asking “What’s the worst part of this for you?” can be a particularly helpful question, especially is a patient is suffering.
If you work in the clinical side of health care, it’s not news to you that sometimes the more intangible pieces of providing care may not come easily to doctors, and that’s why Cleveland Clinic is providing this training. There are not always quick and easy solutions to the problems with effective and appropriate health care communication, but a start is a start!