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Measuring Something That’s Not There

I recently had the pleasure of consulting for well-respected health system, with the intent of improving the patient experience. Part of the process required my shadowing both staff and management in one particular in-patient specialty area within the hospital. There, I observed a phenomenon that I believe has become prevalent in healthcare today: we are measuring something that is not there.

Let me explain. Shortly after getting some altered version of the bedside shift report, aids and nurses begin the dizzying task of hourly rounding, going in and out of rooms and checking mandatory boxes signifying that all the patient needs have been met and anticipated. Many times, box-checking is based on mere assumption; a nurse or aid just happens to be in the room and takes the opportunity to do it. Then comes the leader rounding. In this particular organization, an electronic app was used to track patients’ responses to about 12 questions. On this day, their responses could be summed up in two words: it’s fine. (Sometimes a small complaint or question was thrown in.)

What is it that we’re looking for? Why do we continue to ask patients about a lackluster experience and then act surprised by their responses? If organizations asked themselves the following questions, it would perhaps cause them to step back and prioritize initiatives, energy, and resources.

How much time is spent surveying patients about their experience versus creating the experience for them?

What percentage of time is spent intentionally designing experiences for patients and families?

What resources are allocated to train team members to deliver empathic, personalized care to those they serve?

What do we do with the responses we receive from patients telling us of their experiences?

At what point do we realize that we probably already know the answers that patients are going to give us? We need to get to work and concentrate on creating experiences that we won’t have to ask about, because patients will tell us … through cards, letters, tears in their eyes, thank-you notes—and, sometimes, home-baked treats for the staff.

And then, when we create experiences for patients that are thoughtful and truly patient focused, they will let us know by their loyalty and commitment to us.

We can measure that.

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