Sorry, There’s No Silver Bullet


On a recent podcast I was asked: “What is the biggest misconception you find in healthcare organizations when they try to define and implement effective patient experience programs and protocols?” It’s an interesting question and the answer was clear to me right away.

Someone recently ended a post on one of the many patient experience listservs that I frequent with this phrase: “Good luck, and if anyone discovers the silver bullet, do share!”  This sentiment is not only true for those working in the field each and every day, but it is also true for the leaders of their organizations as well. Everyone is looking for the silver bullet – a quick fix, something that solves all of the problems, something to make it easier in this work.

I’m sorry to say, there’s no silver bullet to magically improve the patient experience. There are essential steps but there is no easy fix. The reality is that organizations that have succeeded in this space have devoted significant amounts of time and resources and have had to try some things (plural) to achieve their success. It is essential that whoever leads patient experience improvement efforts in the organization is in it for the long haul: she or he can handle ambiguity, communicate the need for patience, and to “go the distance” to advance the message throughout the whole organization.

The closest thing that I have found to a silver bullet is less of a bullet and more of a one-two punch: it is a combined approach of broad organizational service culture training, supplemented and reinforced by personal, one-on-one shadow coaching*. Lots of organizations do training, but what makes this powerful is the individualized approach of the coaching session. When we talk about improving performance of courtesy and respect, listening carefully, explaining things in a way that patients and families understand, demonstrating empathy, addressing pain and engaging in shared decision making, these are all best assessed in the moment and with actual patient encounters.

For most physicians and staff, when they sit in a class and learn about these concepts or are reminded about them, they don’t really know how they actually perform on those concepts. Like driving a car, there’s a general personal positive bias at play where we think we are better at it than other people. Let’s face it: no one wants to do a bad job of communicating or deliberately disrespect people. When I have had the opportunity to work one-on-one with care team members, I’ve seen firsthand the power that this modality can bring in helping those team members understand how they are actually performing against their organizational and/or personal goals.

If you’d like to hear more about this topic, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Lonnie Hirsch of Hirsch Healthcare Consulting to discuss current themes, challenges, and trends in patient experience. We talked about where to start, how to be successful in improving the patient experience, patient experience vs. patient engagement, and more. Click on the link below, and I hope it’s helpful to you!

Thanks, and from our team here at DTA, we wish you a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

* A quick clarification here… When an organization is first introducing the concept of shadowing or coaching, it’s important to be very clear in describing the process. For many, the word “coaching” conjures up performance improvement plans and being “coached” out of the organization. That’s the opposite of what this is all about. This coaching is private, one-on-one, and intended for making a professional better. I’ve found that a strengths-based approach is not only supportive of the care team but also a very powerful change agent. And that’s the closest thing to a silver bullet that I have found!

If you still need convincing, you may also appreciate Atul Gawande’s Ted Talk on this topic of coaching. Check it out at the link below. Dr. Gawande shares his secret to success (or silver bullet if you will): having a good coach that can provide a more accurate lens through which we can see our own reality, help to instill more engrained and positive habits in our thought processes, and to dissect our actions for understanding and rebuilding them for a stronger practice. “It’s not how good you are now; it’s how good you’re going to be that really matters,” Gawande says.

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Janiece Gray

I began my career as a social worker and later, with my Master of Health Administration (MHA), directed operations at Allina Health in Minnesota. I later directed patient experience at Allina. My background and experience give me strengths in approaching healthcare opportunities and challenges through a systems lens – with unique strengths, challenges and activation points. My experience is also informed by leadership roles leading performance improvement in patient-centered care and patient experience departments. Working in the client role with healthcare consulting firms inspired me to address some unmet needs in the industry, and to co-found DTA Healthcare Solutions. I have a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and find that the discipline of practice translates to healthcare work very well.

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