Small Things That Build Patient Experience Big-time

caring patient experienceHospital and medical care providers recognize that the patient experience—and positive patient satisfaction—is best constructed with a thousand little building blocks. (Maybe a million.)

One of the better outlines of patient “wants” was offered in Stephanie Staples’ post on She writes, patients want to know:

  1. Help me feel human.
  2. Empower me.
  3. Ease my fear.
  4. Treat me with respect.

Often it is the “how” that practitioners want to hear about. Good ideas are not “business secrets.” Things that work are openly and readily shared among healthcare organizations. Especially those gems that have the potential to improve care, are easily tested and adopted, and do not require more work or major expense.

As idea-starters, here are just a few examples (including many you know about):

  • A sense of choice, direction and control, shaping expectations, providing reassurance, maintaining personal dignity, relieving tension
  • Active listening and responsive action
  • Asking about personal preferences and choices
  • Avoid information overload and “fire-hose” delivery of instructions
  • Communicate in everyday terms avoiding jargon
  • Convenience in transportation, parking and way-finding direction within facility
  • Free Wi-Fi Internet access
  • Inform people about wait times and next steps
  • Maintain channels of communication with family, friends and caregivers
  • Pet therapy
  • Pre- and post-appointment calls
  • Put rapport-building conversation ahead of clinical dialog
  • Respecting people as individuals, not as interruptions
  • Solicit (and act upon) patient suggestions for improvement throughout visit
  • Staff provides self-introductions by name and role in patient’s care
  • Talk with patients at their eye level when possible
  • Volunteer patient advocates and “Patient Pal” visitors
  • Welcoming first impression upon entering facility and each service area

Other examples come from the Cleveland Clinic, which is good at sharing ideas of all sorts. From the annual Patient Experience Empathy & Innovation Summit to their recent Medical Innovations Summit, patient experience ideas are both sharable and scalable.

Being “scalable” may be the important part for many. As Dr. James Merlino, Chief Experience Officer of the Cleveland Clinic explains, people want to know how they can apply the concept to their organization, he told us in our earlier podcast. “They want to know—if the Mayo Clinic is doing something, or if Cleveland Clinic is doing something—how can they apply it to their organization, regardless of size.”

And regardless of the size of the organization, it often comes down to the small things that translate leadership, policy, procedure, culture and training into a personalized and positive Patient Experience. Recently, the MedCity News reported a few “little steps that seem to be making a big difference.” (Please feel free to adopt, adapt and/or apply what can work for your facility.)

At Cleveland Clinic:

  • “Patient greeters throughout the hospital wear red coats so patients can easily identify the people who can help them get to their destinations.
  • “Thousands of pieces of art are displayed throughout the clinic’s facilities. They’re managed by a professional curator who organizes them to create a healing environment
  • “Instead of allowing patients to opt in to MyChart, the portal through which they access their health records, they’re automatically enrolled and have the choice to opt out.
  • “Visiting hours are no more; families and friends can visit patients whenever they want.
  • “Clinicians and staff members wear color-coded uniforms so patients know what to expect.
  • “With the help of fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, the Clinic designed a more dignified patient gown that covers the entire body.
  • “The Clinic offers massage therapy and pet therapy in some departments, including oncology and pediatrics.
  • “There’s one universal phone number (previously 60 numbers) for making an appointment with any of the system’s clinicians. That’s lowered the time patients spend waiting on the phone and cut the drop-off rate.”

A focus on patient experience is a critical success factor in healthcare delivery. And, more than ever, it’s not just what your hospital does (functional need), but how you do it (emotional need). The patient experience happens in moments of care and concern…and most of them are simply the small things, making a big difference…a million times a day.

Please add something to our lists. What “small thing” can you suggest that contributes to patient satisfaction. Sharing your idea(s) below just might be a big help to others.

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 Small Things That Build Patient Experience Big-time

  1. Neil baum November 12, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    The ACA will pump 20-40 million patients into the healthcare system. We will be challenaged to become more efficient and more productive. I find that helping patients focus on what they want accomplished duirng their visit significantly improves the efficiency of the practice. Each patient is provided a 5×7 card asking them to write down the three questions that they would like answered during their visit. I will look at the card at the end of the visit and make sure I have answered all of their significant and important questions that will make their visit more meaningful and complete. As a result of using this technique, I will not have the situation when I put my hand on the door knob and ready to leave, the patient will state that they have one more question to ask or will call the office after they leave the office to ask a question that did not get answered.

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