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Nurse Leaders: Broaden How You Think About Patient Experience


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By Jennifer Thew, RN

Sharon Quinlan's passion for patient experience grew out of her personal experience with the healthcare system.

"When I was in my 30s, both my parents, in short succession, went through really complex, multiple chronic disease conditions and, then ultimately, passed away," says the vice president/chief nursing officer of ambulatory at the newly merged Advocate Aurora Health. "So, I experienced the healthcare system from a lens that I had never experienced it before. I'll tell you the healthcare system didn't look very good to me through that lens."

Even as a healthcare professional, navigating the system was a challenge. And communication was subpar.

"The ways that clinicians and other caregivers communicated didn't respect the dignity of my parents or of my family. The healthcare system was helping us achieve our clinical outcomes but wasn't helping us with the burden of illness," says Quinlan, MSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC. "It really changed the way I thought about my practice and my leadership."

As a result, she became a proponent of patient- and family-centered care. Over the years, she has worked to promote partnerships between patients and the organizations where she has worked. Here are some of her insights on enhancing patient experience.

Following are the highlights of Quinlan's recent interview with Health Leaders Media. The transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

"Patient experience is something we measure retrospectively. It can give us a narrow picture. We would do well to expand our view of what patient experience is, framing it broadly in patient-centered terms.  For me, that means a holistic view of providing value for your consumer. I know that is not [traditional] nursing language. But, how do you translate this movement of value-based care and consumerism into what we've traditionally thought about as patient satisfaction and patient experience?"

"I think as nurse leaders we have to broaden our lens in terms of consumer value, patient- centered care and what that can lead to, as opposed to just focusing on patient satisfaction, patient experience, and HCAHPS or CGCAHPS scores."

Be an intentional listener

"The first avenue is engaging patients as our partners. One way to do this is forming patient advisory councils. The patient advisory council will help caregivers understand the [heart] of the patient's experience and how we might specifically design any program, particularly those where a robust discussion would shed light on the patients' wants and needs."

"Another way to engage patients is using consumer research. We are very lucky at Aurora to have an expert consumer research division that does ethnographic studies [research] that are very solid in terms of scale of measurement, data, and research. They analyze the data in a very evidence-based way."

"Typically, in the healthcare industry, we haven't done the kinds of consumer research that other industries, like Apple, do. Think about whether your organization is doing consumer research and listening to patients in a way that would really help you become more customer focused."

"After our councils [give feedback] people will say, ‘That is one person's opinion.' So, when you have good consumer research, you get the power of the data and the benefit of rich dialogue in the advisory councils."

"For example, Anne Martino, who is vice president of consumer engagement at Aurora, and I partner on a patient advisory council. The discussions there inform thinking around her work and she often leverages issues of importance that come up at that council to inform her research."

"For example, billing was a huge issue for our patients and their families. Anne partnered with the billing department and her division to overhaul our online billing capabilities and the transparency of our charges. While the example isn't nursing-focused, it exemplifies how we [take] the council [input] and the consumer insights data and translate that into operations, whether that is a billing situation or a clinical program."

Connect back to the organization's culture

"As leaders, use your pulpit to connect that [patient-centered] work to the culture of the organization. Each person has a story. We are sensitive to what that person's story is—both those of our caregivers and our patients."

"I think there is messaging that leaders can use within an organization to both tell and show how listening to our patients is important—listening to our caregivers and understanding the perspectives of patients and families. This gives us a sense that we are all in it together."

Editor's note: Sharon Quinlan will be sharing more insights on patient experience during the panel presentation, "Leverage Nurse Impact to Innovate and Enhance the Patient Experience" on May 1 at the World Healthcare Congress in Washington, D.C.