Improving the Patient Experience: It Starts at the Top

As patients continue to appeal for a better healthcare experience, healthcare providers are tasked to deliver on their patients’ expectations to remain competitive. Today’s patients expect convenient scheduling options, clear communication, and efficient, friendly, and personalized service. But, it can be challenging to know where to start as leaders are pulled in many directions and are pressured to ensure the success of the business.

At SGEi, we’ve worked with hundreds of companies across many different industries, so we understand firsthand how challenging it can be to know where to start. However, one common starting place for any new initiative, no matter what company or industry, is at the top. Leaders at all levels must show their full buy-in and support before the frontline staff can bring these initiatives to life. Here’s how each leadership level can bring any new change initiative to life:

1) Executives: Although these leaders are not directly interacting with patients, executives are responsible for planning and budgeting resources so that caregivers and staff can make the patient experience their primary focus. Providing the tools to help frontline caregivers effectively complete their job duties while putting patients first is critical to ensuring the patient-first vision. Yet, all too often, healthcare providers are faced with trade-offs when investing their funds. As Patrick Zummo, an analyst and entrepreneur, describes: “Healthcare systems and hospitals, especially small ones, are faced with the difficult choice between spending on new equipment/resources or spending on employee development. Executives must message to everyone in their ecosystem that they understand how to improve [the patient experience], and that they value it enough to make training a priority. It is all too easy to focus on the big, new machine that could bring more revenue to the hospital and forget that, without a great patient experience, the machine cannot earn money.”
Executives must support the patient experience (Px) by providing proper technology, resources, training (both technical and interpersonal), and policies and procedures, which ultimately support staff in delivering the best patient experience possible. As James Bonner LMSW, MBA, the senior director of safety and patient experience at Spectrum Health, confirms, “When caregivers feel executives and leaders have their back, it opens up truly empathetic thinking that drives cultural change.”

2) Physicians: Physicians are integral leaders in healthcare organizations because they not only have direct contact with patients but also must coordinate their efforts with other support staff. Historically, this group of leaders has been distracted and resistant to slowing down and focusing on patient care. Physicians are often burdened with paying back their student loans, securing high-liability insurance coverage, and working in demanding conditions, which leave them more focused on efficiency and sometimes less focused on the patient experience. But, Tom Scaletta, MD president of SmartER, reminds us that, “Connecting and pleasing patients is sometimes the joy that keeps you going…we cannot forget this.” Miriam Melgar-Atanaya, a patient experience director in the Los Angeles area, shares her experience and asserts:
“We are partnering with physicians to deliver the best experience to our patients. Patients expect to be treated with courtesy and respect…these are simple things. And doctors want that for their patients too but often come across as curt because they are subject to tremendous stress in the form of long hours, liability, and debt. We must learn to empathize with the doctor’s reality, and work with them, rather than criticize an already stressed-out doctor.”
It is a team effort to ensure the organization’s culture is positive and productive, which leads to a better patient experience and better results.

3) Supervisors and managers: The roles of supervisors and managers are essential to delivering a great patient experience. Ultimately, their roles are to support and coach their frontline support staff. Caregivers are typically exposed to and interact the most with patients. Since caregivers usually serve as the first and last points of contact with patients, they must understand how to deliver the best experience possible. As such, supervisors and managers must directly coach their caregivers on their performance. As James Bonner explains, “Coaching directly from the area leader or manager of the department is much more effective than someone from HR or an outside firm. There isn’t the same level of trust with people outside [their department].” Executives must support supervisors and managers with proper leadership training to ensure they have the confidence and capabilities to coach their caregivers. Supervisors and managers must remember to display the behaviors that they want their caregivers to emulate. “By modeling the same behavior with both patients and employees, we see more intent listening and greater empathy between caregivers and patients, as well as between caregivers and their peers,” reaffirms James Bonner.

To get to the desired bottom line, leaders at all levels must make the patient experience a priority. The patient experience mindset must start at the top and guide the decision-making of physicians, supervisors, managers, and caregivers to ensure that everyone shares the same vision and is collectively working towards continually improving the patient experience.

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