Why the former CMO of Intermountain thinks there is a return on investment in patient experience

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What is a good patient experience in a hospital? Based on patient feedback, the answer comes down to one thing, according to Shannon Connor Phillips, who served as Intermountain Health Carechief medical officer for outpatient care until she went on sabbatical a few weeks ago.

Once a provider comes to a patient’s bedside, the patient can immediately tell if they are mentally present, Phillips said. If their provider doesn’t seem entirely there, patients usually have a negative experience that not only leaves them with a bad taste in their mouths, but also a feeling of being undervalued. Phillips shared this knowledge on Sunday during a panel at Commit to HLTHa patient engagement summit hosted by MedCity News in Las Vegas.

She described a model that was implemented for inpatient care at Intermountain during her time in the healthcare system. Under the model, a patient’s care team – including physicians, social workers and consulting specialists – would come to their room at a scheduled time to discuss treatment plans and progress. The care team would always start these sessions by asking patients and their families what their questions are and what worries them the most. The answers to these questions are written on a whiteboard in the patient’s room so that any other clinicians who may come in to care for the patient know their priorities.

Hospitals should adopt models of care like this, according to Phillips. But fellow panelist Pierre Durlach, Communications Shades‘ Chief Strategy Officer, pointed to an important consideration: It’s difficult to invest in creating these types of care models and patient experience initiatives when hospital finances are so dire.

He drew attention to a “really fundamental” problem – the fact that the model of hospital care is “designed for performance”. When hospitals strive to get as many patients in and out as they can so they can get paid and therefore keep their doors open, the patient experience often takes a back seat.

Phillips acknowledged this sad reality is true, but said investments in patient experience can still create great value for hospitals and healthcare systems.

Besides the obvious human element, it makes sense to her that hospitals want to invest money and energy into improving the patient experience. These investments can help hospitals build brand loyalty and gain market share because people like to talk about their healthcare experiences, whether good or bad. When you hear that a hospital is providing compassionate care without rushing, more people will want to seek care there, Phillips said.

Panelist Erica Olenski Johansen, Founding Executive Director of August artists, agreeing with Phillips’ remarks. Johansen’s organization is named after his son, who is almost four years old and was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was five months old. The organization provides access to art materials for pediatric patients and their families to make their hospital stay more enjoyable.

As August’s primary caregiver, Johansen has valuable insight into what hospitals can do to improve the patient experience.

For example, the conditions of pediatric patients often require them to stay in the hospital for days. The families of these patients need to be in the hospital, but they also need to keep working so they can pay their bills and maintain the insurance they need for their child’s care. Something as simple as making sure the hospital has reliable WiFi that parents can use in situations like these are considerations that hospitals need to pay more attention to, Johansen pointed out.

She also suggested that hospitals think about how they can create a “psychologically safer environment” for families and patients, as the circumstances they go through are incredibly emotionally and mentally taxing.

Photo: HLTH

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