Before we start to talk about the specifics of improving patient experience, it is really important to ensure that we all on the same page about what that means. Suzanne Shale has written an excellent article on the three layers of patient experience, Patient Experience as an indicator of clinical quality in emergency care. Whilst the biological dysfunction and consumer satisfaction with a provider (cue Friends and Family Test) are important, it is the phenomenological approach which is my focus here - "the totality of living with health, illness and treatment".
Everyone is familiar with the statistics about how few hours patients spend on average each year with healthcare professionals. So why when we talk about patient experience, why do we focus so much on that 0.001% of the time?! Patient experience is often focused on clinical pathways that look like this...
Swamps, mountains, storms, unfriendly terrain and weather, that you can't go round, over or under... You have no option but to go through it. Although the patient journey is not fun like a bear hunt!
Stepping up a level from the footprint of the pathway, I want to think about the journey that that pathway represents with patients. Emotions don't fit on the 2D pathways above, but if we are talking about the phenomenological approach, that is an integral part of it all!
And these emotions and this journey don't just start at that first interaction with the service. It starts with the expectations and pre-conceptions people have about a service and the fears people have about their care or the service. The emotions aren't just related to specific interactions or transactions, but the journey as a whole that this patient may be embarking on for the rest of their life.
So if we want better patients pathways, those pathways would help patients through the swamps and storms, and all the associated emotions. How can we design something like that without the intrepid explorers themselves?!
But this involvement doesn't mean just focus groups and surveys. Whilst they are valuable tools, they should not be the only way this transformation should happen. As I have mentioned in a previous post, people with long term health conditions have an enormous wealth of knowledge. It may not be formally recognised through an acknowledged educational system with registered qualifications, but qualifications from the University of Life that patients have are no less valid when we are talking about health and illness.
So with this wealth of experience, are we making the most of it by getting everyone to fill out a survey, or by just 'capturing my experience'? Surely there are ways that we can involve patients that make the most of this knowledge? I believe that with patient leaders, and by treating involvement as a process not just a discrete activity, we can make the most of that experience and improve care. By just 'listening' to patients, we aren't doing justice to their knowledge, and are missing out on the contributions they could make at many other levels to our healthcare system.
Instead of talking about the 15 million patients who live with long term health conditions, 15 million problems to be solved, let's talk about the 15 million insight that are out there, the 15 million passions, the 15 million skills... and do credit to that by doing more than surveys and feedback, but by working productively with those potential partners you could have in improving care.