Defining, and Caring for, the Emotional Side of the Patient Experience

Every definition of Patient Experience—the really good ones—identifies an emotional component. In fact, the emotional experience of patients is ever-present in every aspect of the continuum of care. From the patient’s initial need, their clinical treatment, and their interactions with providers and staff, to the outcome or resolution of their medical issue, human emotions are an ever-present scoreboard.

Because this emotional component in healthcare delivery is universal, we found some useful lessons in dealing with the emotional experience of patients in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Their findings, definitions, problems and solutions will seem familiar to healthcare in the United States. And they provide useful insight and lessons for hospital administrators, medical providers and healthcare professionals.

Research zeroed-in on patient “negative feelings” a few years ago, and NHS found the most common ones were confusion, disappointment, annoyance and frustration. Among the main causes:

  • Poor communications,
  • Long waiting times,
  • Patronizing staff attitudes, and
  • Feeling lost in the system.

In short, there was a strong feeling that the healthcare system did not always meet patients’ emotional needs. People had different opinions and experiences, but consistent themes emerged in terms of typical positive and negative feelings.

They also identified what a positive patient experience at an emotional level should feel like. Patients want to feel reassured, confident, cared for, informed, safe and relaxed. Being reassured was particularly important; they wished to feel safe and “in good hands.” Central to an ideal experience was feeling that they are important and “special.”

Defining the emotional experience of patients

The bottom line: “The findings were quite clear—the quality of a patient’s emotional experience was a major factor in their overall satisfaction. We want [healthcare delivery] that meets not only our physical needs but our emotional ones, too. This means:

  • Getting good treatment in a comfortable, caring and safe environment, delivered in a calm and reassuring way;
  • Having information to make choices, to feel confident and to feel in control
  • Being talked to and listened to as an equal; and
  • Being treated with honesty, respect and dignity.”

With this direction, the NHS provided its constituents with Best Practice examples of programs to improve patients’ emotional experience. The practical case descriptions are a wealth of useful material, and much of it transferable to everyday application in US hospitals and provider practices. The emotional side of Patient Experience is nearly universal, and good ideas can originate on either side of “the pond.”

Lonnie Hirsch


About Lonnie Hirsch

Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies, Lonnie has consulted for over 2,000 health care clients during his 20-year career. Lonnie writes for many healthcare publications, and also has spoken at hundreds of venues nationally. His topics include patient experience, customer service, marketing, branding and business development.

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One Response to Defining, and Caring for, the Emotional Side of the Patient Experience

  1. Brandon Dillon December 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Interesting post Lonnie, and thanks for the link. The part about the duties of the receptionist is especially useful. One of the fastest ways to ruin patient experience is to have them greeted by a gruff receptionist.

    I do wonder about how to improve on these Best Practices, though. Emotions are such a nebulous thing. How do you quantify it? How do you know which things you’re doing today are improving the experience, and which are harming it?

    Any thoughts?

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