4 unlikely sources of patient experience success strategies

Patient experience, and ways to improve it, is a popular topic here at FierceHealthcare and our sister publications. And this week was no exception. But a Hospital Impact blog post on Wednesday offered a unique spin on the issue, highlighting unusual inspiration for patient experience improvement.

Hospital leaders usually turn to patient experience officers, health industry experts or government agencies for ways to provide superior experiences for patients during their hospital stays.

But as I learned this week, good advice can come from unexpected places. In fact, the blog post inspired me to look through some of our recent coverage and present other unlikely sources for patient experience success and the lessons learned.

1. An envelope company

So what can hospital leaders learn from the former CEO of an envelope company about giving patients a better hospital experience? A lot actually, according to the Hospital Impact blog post from Anthony Cirillo, president of Fast Forward Consulting. The takeaway lesson: Know your customers.

The company's sales team over time had to answer 66 questions about their customers, according to the post. Questions included "Are they active in the community? How?" and "What sensitive issues should not be discussed with the person?"

While a hospital visit has little in common with an envelope, the company was on to something about patient experience. Getting to know the patients you serve can make it easier to focus on the aspects of the hospital experience that mean the most to your patients. One way hospitals can get to know patients is by forming patient and family advisory councils, and then incorporating their perspective in care improvements.

2. Major League Baseball

Most people wouldn't associate a professional sports league with patient experience improvement, but that's just what Jason Wolf, president of The Beryl Institute, did last week in another Hospital Impact blog post.

Hospitals can take a cue from Major League Baseball and its all-star break: Instead of waiting until the end of the year to identify and recognize performance, take half-way break to celebrate patient experience all-stars.

Like MLB teams, hospitals need to take time to acknowledge and support its team members--as providing a good experience involves everyone from nurses, physicians or technicians to volunteers, food service workers and housekeeping.

As their own quasi all-star breaks, some hospitals offer education via participation in a system-wide conference or simply say thank you during a staff barbecue with food served by senior leaders, Wolfe noted.

3. Toddlers at Disney World

When I think of toddlers and infants at Disney World, I think of crying and whining, and lots of it--not what I would consider a high-quality experience.

But it turns out those tiny Disney World goers can teach us something about improving the patient experience, according to Hospital Impact blogger Doug Della Pietra, director of customer services and volunteers and the patient experience team co-chair for Rochester (N.Y.) General Hospital. The lesson they provide is to give patients undivided attention.

Two cultural anthropologists found that what captured the young children's attention wasn't Disney magic but rather the fact that their parents were on their cell phones--for when parents were using their phones, they weren't paying complete attention to their kids.

Giving patients undivided attention sounds simple enough, but like those young children at Disney World, patients are competing with computers, smartphones and tablets for the attention of their physicians and nurses. Further barriers to undivided attention are providers' extra focus on completing checklists, watching monitors and responding to various alarms that sound.

As Della Pierta asked, what would capture the attention of your patients? Learning from toddlers and infants at Disney World, hospitals must ensure it's the attentiveness and mindfulness of its providers, not the computer screens and monitor beeps holding providers' attention hostage.

4. The billing department

Another uncommon source of inspiration reminds hospitals the patient experience goes beyond bedside care. In fact, patient experience extends all the way to the billing department, which is why Meritus Health System in Maryland is improving experience by preventing billing issues.

To make sure patients have a good billing experience, the system provides patients with tools and resources to understand the finances and payment arrangements to make their payments, such as financial liaisons who can explain their bills, George Semko, vice president of revenue cycle at Meritus told FierceHealthcare in a recent interview.

Meritus also publishes its financial aid policy every year, which it puts on its website and at every registration site within the health system. And if patients don't have transportation, it will even send someone to their homes to fill out the applications with them.

With patient experience continuing to climb the priority list at hospitals, what other unlikely sources can provide patient experience inspiration? Alicia (@FierceHealth)