E |  info@pandhmedical.co.uk

American Learning and Development Consultant, Kate Zabriskie, said ‘The Customer’s perception is your reality.’ This truth is applicable to all industries, but it is especially true of healthcare. In most industries the customer is the end-user of the product. As a customer, you are interested in how the product functions, how it looks and whether it meets your personal needs. Normally, the customer is blissfully unaware of any of the steps in the manufacturing process or the attitude of the staff that work for the organisation because usually all you experience is the end product. In healthcare, the patient is both the customer and the product. They are the ultimate end-user, but they are also the product, the entity that is ‘manufactured’ or ‘processed.’ So not only are patients interested in the end result of the care they receive, but they experience every step of the ‘manufacturing’ process first hand. As a consequence, the relationship between healthcare provider and the patient is incredibly special and its importance should not be underestimated.

Recently, there has been a large focus on measuring and quantifying patient experience over the last few years, but are we measuring the right things?

Apart from some cosmetic surgery procedures, Healthcare is not a luxury purchase. It’s not like buying an expensive handbag or the latest model of your favourite mobile phone. Neither, is it an impulse purchase, like buying an expensive coffee or an unplanned snack between meals as a treat. In general, people only seek healthcare when something has gone wrong. It’s a distress purchase. This changes the dynamic between the customer and the service provider. It is based on need rather than want. In addition, being ill or injured is not particularly enjoyable. Consequently, measuring how good an experience it has been may not be the right metric. Could having a tooth extracted ever be a good experience?

Measuring patient satisfaction is difficult, but measuring patient experience is equally as hard. This is fundamentally because as an industry we have forgotten to truly listen to our patients, but focus on our own organisational agendas.

Patient satisfaction is not binary, it is seldom wonderful or awful – it’s usually somewhere in between. Thinking of patient satisfaction in a binary manner categorises it like every other outcome measure and devalues its importance. Thinking of patient satisfaction in this way shifts the healthcare providers focus back onto the organisation and treats the patient as if they were a number and not a person and reinforces all that is wrong in modern healthcare.

The high-achieving healthcare organisations realise that their focus should not be on their organisation, but instead they should be focussing on providing patient-centred care. They understanding that what matters to their patients is what is important, because they are only there because of their patients, rather than the perverse, but all too common view, that patients are there for the benefit if the healthcare provider.

We should measure what matters to our patients and not ask them to fit in with a long list of metrics that we think are important, but in reality are meaningless to them. When measuring patient satisfaction we should attempt to capture the softer, but equally important, metrics such as empathy and the attentiveness shown by staff in addition to clinical outcomes as these measure the art, rather than the science, of healthcare delivery. For example, for the relative of a patient that is dying in a hospice from cancer measuring the clinical outcome is meaningless. Nor is it likely to have been an enjoyable experience. However, contact with warm and empathetic staff can leave relatives satisfied that their loved one received excellent care at the time of their greatest need.

So if the patient’s perception is our reality, perhaps we should start listening more thoughtfully.

By Dr Paul Jarvis