4 key ingredients for creating an exceptional patient experience

While walking back to the infusion center from the hospital cafeteria, my mom briefly stopped and held the wall-railing to catch her breath. Enter a maintenance man 10 feet away who asked "Would you like a wheelchair?"

My mom thanked him but graciously declined and we were on our way once again heading to the elevators.

We were both moved by his kind and proactive attention. This man exceeded our expectations and two weeks later we're still talking about him. With four key ingredients, he transformed an ordinary moment into an extraordinary one for us and delivered an exceptional patient experience.


1. Calling

"The way you perceive your work has a major impact on whether you 'bother' to exceed expectations or not," says Bryan K. Williams, D.M. in his recent blog post "Exceeding Your Customers' Expectations? Why Bother?"

We relate to our work as a "job"--a means to pay the bills--as a "career"--aspiring for promotions, job titles, etc.--or as a "calling"--one's personal mission and life purpose. Calling is the first key ingredient for exceeding others' expectations.

2. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another's feelings, situation and motives.

As I wrote in a previous Hospital Impact article, Tony DiGioia, M.D. says the key to delivering exceptional care experiences to everyone, all the time," requires caregivers to "view all care experiences through the eyes of the patients and families."

Empathy enables us to take off our own eyeglasses and put on those of the patients and families we are called to serve so as to see through their eyes. When we do so, empathy transforms "I" or "you" to "we."

Fortunately, empathy is a teachable skill, which is why business schools like Harvard, hospitals like Massachusetts General and world-class companies like Zappos are training students, residents and employees alike how to understand and respond to another person's feelings.

3. Compassion

With the desire to see through the eyes of patients and families that comes with empathy, compassion compels us to act; it's the outward expression of an inner desire.

Tom Dahlborg rightly states in his latest Hospital Impactarticle that "as healthcare leaders ... it is our job to best position healthcare professionals to honor their calling and care for their patients compassionately if we are to optimally serve all those entrusted to us."

Continuing in another article, Dahlborg calls upon healthcare leaders "to focus ... energy and resources on creating a new model of care where time, relationship, trust, continuity, empathy and compassion are maximized and CARE (and caring) is the emphasis of healthCARE."

Remember, compassionate healthcare starts with you!

4. Emotional Connection

A very recent survey revealed that 76 percent of respondents rate an emotional connection through personal and proactive communication as "very important" for healthcare providers, more than any other industry.

"Emotions influence what we remember, how we evaluate encounters and our decisions," said Joyce Hostyn in herpresentation on "Writing Great Experiences."

To optimize healing healthcare experiences, customer (patient) experience experts agree that we must:

  • "Map" the full scope of the patient experience,
  • Identify the ideal experience we want to deliver, and
  • Develop systems that support our front-line staff in making emotional connections that enhance the healing experience.

Whether maintenance man, physician, housekeeper, nurse, pharmacist, receptionist, social worker, valet, OT, PT, food service worker, patient care tech, etc., we are the patient experience and transform the ordinary into the extraordinary by bringing together the key ingredients for creating an exceptional patient experience: calling, empathy, compassion and making an emotional connection.

Doug Della Pietra is the director of Customer Services and Volunteers for Rochester General Hospital in New York, where he co-chairs the hospital's Patient Experience Team, in addition to responsibilities for an intentionally-designedpatient- and family-centered volunteer program and front-line First & Last Impression initiatives. Follow Doug@DougDellaPietra on Twitter.