3 Strategies to Improve the Patient Experience

Designing for optimal patient experience is one of the leading trends advancing healthcare operations today. In fact, Accenture found that U.S. hospitals that deliver “superior” customer experience achieve net margins that are 50% higher, on average, than those of hospitals providing “average” customer service.

On March 20, 2017, Kahler Slater Thought Leader Jennifer Schlimgen, AIA, Vice President, co-presented at The Beryl Institute national Patient Experience conference in Denver, CO. Together with client Amelia S. Black, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Amy Keller Frye, EDAC, Lead Researcher, AB Design Research LLC, we shared learnings from research and the field in the packed-house presentation, Positive Correlations Between the Patient Experience, Organizational Performance and Facility Design.

Hitting the Books

After sharing a meaningful anecdote on how their own or a family member’s health care story made this patient experience initiative personal, Amy Keller Frye detailed the methodology. Over 200 articles were reviewed, content was analyzed from more than 30 articles to determine the design, organizational and outcome variables that impact patient experience. Further, after interviewing 9 thought leaders, the findings revealed over 100 contributing to patient experience, 6 of which were the most commonly mentioned. Additionally, 13 strategies and 20 design solutions emerged. This is not an SAT math question, this is just the summary of the rigorous methodology that the team conducted for this important initiative!

As Amy wrapped up our research overview, Jennifer shared the 13 strategies with case study-style project examples to illustrate the positive outcomes. Finally, Amy Black shared in-depth examples of how each of the variables has impacted her organization. Here are three of our favorite strategies that, while standing alone may not seem like rocket science, yet when coupled together, have created powerful results for our clients.

Strategies and Results

Address cultural issues to build trust among community

This strategy influences clinical effectiveness, the most often mentioned variable effecting patient experience. A design solution to address this strategy is to provide a place for cultural expression in healthcare settings.

For example, when designing a new hospital bed tower for a client that serves the unique culture of the Navajo nation, where spiritual beliefs and medicine are one and the same, we created a circular meditation room on each nursing unit - a place equally appropriate for Medicine Man ceremonies, or quiet contemplation for any patient or family. We also provided screened porches for every patient room, so patients can die outdoors and their spirit can escape – which is very important to the Navajo, while access to the outdoors is appreciated by everyone.

By employing this strategy San Juan Regional Medical Center experienced a 39 percent decrease in mortality rate and 23 percent reduction in staff turnover, a significant portion of which are Navajo. What unique cultural diversity are you serving in your community that might appreciate sensitivity to their beliefs, values and culture, without alienating others?

Involve families in care; improve their comfort level

When organizations acknowledge the importance of the family members’ input, they can increase outcomes and comfort for everyone by ensuring all feel cared for and included in the treatment plan. Underscoring this insight, our client Jon Rozenfeld, President, SSM Health, St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison shares this: “We make sure we are always listening to the family given that we realize the family members may be in charge of that patient’s care 360 days out of the year versus the 5 days that we may be in charge of their care.”

Taking good care of families has benefits in multiple realms: satisfaction (for both patients and staff), clinical effectiveness, personalization and safety. Design solutions found in our research that demonstrate a family-centric approach included many ways to make it comfortable for families to stay, such as:

  • Providing sleeping facilities for family members
  • Creating family kitchens, room service and a table for family meals
  • Designing storage for family belongings
  • Providing opportunity to personalize patient rooms
  • Offering access to fitness facilities
  • Providing access to information, including bedside rounding

These design solutions neutralize the negative effects of stress and anxiety, enhance effectiveness and safety and improve perceived levels of safety.

Increase staff satisfaction

This was a theme that appeared not just in our research presentation, but throughout the #PX2017 conference! Happy staff = happy patients.

Increasing staff satisfaction influences patient satisfaction, clinical effectiveness and safety. Design ideas that increase staff satisfaction include:

  • Creating a positive ambient working environment (good air quality, appropriate lighting, lower noise levels)
  • Providing spaces to de-stress and relax: off stage staff lounges and staff-only dining
  • Creating circulation routes that allow staff to arrive “off-stage” (no patients) and get settled before engaging “on-stage”

For example, at Holy Redeemer Healthcare at Bensalem’s ambulatory care center in Bensalem, PA, we collaborated to create a connected off-stage experience for staff where they enter behind the scenes within their lounge (pictured), and connect from this space to a corridor lined with their lockers. This way, after they are settled, they can step on-stage at the entry to the service in which they work, to be fully present when they greet patients and families.

Additionally, the symbolic story telling tree (pictured) reminds staff of their mission of learning every patients’ life story, so that they can provide the most personalized care. When we increase staff satisfaction, we reduce staff stress and improve performance, experience fewer medical errors and …drumroll…increase patient satisfaction.

Wrapping it up

We finished the presentation by sharing that one of our clients offers patients a mini loaf of banana bread upon discharge … and then gave each of the attendees a slice from Denver’s fabulous Hi-Rise Bakery on their way to the networking reception. Kahler Slater was honored and privileged to co-present with AB Design Research and Sentara Martha Jefferson to share this unique research.

To schedule an in-person version of this presentation for your organization or to request a copy of all 13 strategies and the corresponding positive #ptexp outcomes, contact Jennifer Schlimgen, AIA, Vice President at jschlimgen@kahlerslater.com. Requests for homemade banana bread to accompany your in-person PX presentation are allowed and encouraged.

Wheelock Photography Image Credits