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Opinion

The power of patient experience

By Nigel Herbert, Director of Government & Healthcare EMEA at Medallia

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Nigel Herbert on patient experience

COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for digital transformation across the business world. Within the healthcare sector, it spurred a series of initiatives unlike any seen previously.

From video consultations within GP practices to crowdsourcing expert ideas for mass testing initiatives, the healthcare profession was forced to act quickly and rethink operations to meet the demands of a new health landscape.

As we move into the post-pandemic climate, this desire and need for change remains high on the UK Government’s agenda.

With a new digital health plan expected to be unveiled later this year, the government is prioritising change across the UK health sector by drawing on the lessons learnt throughout the pandemic.

The correlation between experience and patient health outcomes

Technology will inevitably play a huge role as we look to digitally transform the NHS.

This technology, combined with the people and processes that embody the healthcare provision in the UK, collectively form the patient experience.

However, the idea of experience is something we typically associate with being a consumer. What role can it play in our healthcare provision?

In the consumer world, the journey that we go on with an organisation, and the way that experience makes us feel, has a direct bearing on future outcomes – for example, whether we continue to engage with that brand.

Likewise, in the healthcare sector, our experiences can directly impact future outcomes, namely how successful a healthcare activity is.

Indeed, research has established the connection between positive experiences and desirable healthcare outcomes.

A positive experience can result in building better trust with your healthcare practitioner, forming better relationships, and delivering overall better outcomes, such as adherence to prescribed medication.

It is then no surprise that the patient experience is now considered a vital element of the care pathway.

Within the NHS, there is now a requirement to gather patient experience data – tracking factors such as dignity, compassion and involvement in care decisions – to provide better insight and enable the sector to improve both the quality of care and choices provided to patients.

Yet, not all patient experiences yield positive outcomes. For those whose experience is that of not being heard, the outcome may be that the patient deviates from the prescribed treatment plan.

In addition, not all patients will leave feedback – an important consideration if healthcare providers are hoping to administer changes based on responses.

Healthcare providers must therefore attempt to tap into the views of all patients, not just those who speak the loudest.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution – the patient experience will vary based on race, gender, age and location – so getting a well-rounded view of all your patients is essential for success.

Looking beyond the symptoms

We’ve established that the patient experience, and a good one at that, is a fundamental part of today’s healthcare provision.

However, to be truly effective, that experience must be analysed and therefore must be viewed as some form of data that we can derive insight from and act on.

Healthcare professionals can look at patient records or medical results to form a prognosis, but it’s not until they’ve captured and operationalised all the non-clinical information that they can formulate a treatment plan that takes into account a person’s individual needs, thoughts and feelings – as well as external factors, such as lifestyle and support networks available to them.

Whether it is through a feedback card, or from a conversation with a patient, feedback plays a key role in shaping a holistic understanding of the patient.

Emerging technologies are also increasingly being leveraged to collect feedback and even more subtle ‘experience signals.’

Tools, such as speech and text analytics – that scan large volumes of experience data for tone, sentiment and themes – allow organisations to understand issues at scale, while AI-powered video feedback solutions enable them to read facial expressions and understand emotion, capturing six times as much information as they would through pure text.

By capturing data in real-time, healthcare organisations can gain an understanding of the patient experience in the moment they occur. Identifying and analysing common points of friction in the customer journey means that healthcare providers can take action.

By acknowledging the problems that customers are facing, and taking action to remedy them, patients can rest safe in the knowledge that their experience, and more importantly, their health, matters.

The value of staff feedback in the patient experience

Central to the successful delivery of a smooth patient experience lies the employee – the healthcare professional who both cares for and listens to a patient.

However, despite this, few organisations have in place effective employee engagement programmes that capture feedback and ensure that employees feel listened to and valued in their place of work – which in turn are further motivating factors in healthcare delivery.

All too often, organisations rely on outdated, and lengthy annual engagement surveys, that fail to focus on the concerns of individual staff members and their patients.

Here again, a more effective method would be to gather feedback in the moment, capturing employee signals from ad-hoc surveys framed around different topics and themes.

In addition, success can also be found through introducing idea-sharing platforms – harnessing the collective power of idea generation to come up with solutions to challenges or just to highlight potential roadblocks.

Whilst analysing operational data sources, looking at staff performance data and how much paid time off employees are taking also holds great merit in understanding employee engagement.

What is most valuable though, is collating all the experience data from disparate sources in one place and using it to set targets for improved healthcare delivery.

This can then be used to benchmark performance, providing decision-makers with insight into whether a desired behaviour is happening, and if so, if that behaviour is in turn producing the results desired.

The value of an early warning system

When it comes to health issues, we are often told that an early diagnosis is key.

With an early diagnosis, it is easier to take action, remedy any problems and achieve the desired outcome of making a full recovery. The same is true of experience.

The earlier that an issue within a patient’s healthcare journey is identified, the quicker it can be fixed, resulting in overall better care experience and outcome.

By using technology to gather insight and through effectively engaging with employees, healthcare providers can deploy a powerful early warning system that serves as a blueprint for patient-centric care today and tomorrow.

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