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Industry insight 04.12.2017

How to improve patient experience? Three fundamentals for hospital decision-makers

The concept of patient experience has gathered widespread interest in recent years, and is being increasingly identified as one of the three pillars of healthcare quality along with clinical effectiveness and patient safety. However, it can be daunting for clinical professionals and decision-makers to start systematically improving patient experience. Based on my recent research on the topic and learnings from the road with developing Kaiku Health to what it is today, I present here three most important fundamentals to consider from the patient experience perspective when improving healthcare services.

Patient and staff participation is vital

Including patients, staff and caregivers in the design process is necessary in order to understand their needs and problems and to help designers build empathy. It’s advisable to include patients from different backgrounds, because they have different needs depending for example on their age, socioeconomic status, disabilities or personal life. Their illness can have a great effect on their needs – for example, cancer patients often require more psychosocial support than others. Clinical staff has an incredible amount of both clinical and practical knowhow. Including them in the design process helps create tools and processes that work in practice and achieve the staff’s buy-in for changes in their work.

Participation can take many forms. In the beginning of a service design project, stakeholder interviews can be a good way for the designers to gain a general understanding of how the service and domain work. Co-creation workshops can be used to bring patients, clinical staff and other stakeholders around the same table to envision better services, build mutual empathy and to foster a patient-centered culture in the organization. Some topics can however be difficult for patients. Longer-term diary studies or design probes combined with post-interviews can help patients open up.

A holistic approach is needed

Good service design considers the patient’s experience holistically – the whole patient journey – in addition to focusing on individual touchpoints such as hospital interiors or the usability of appointment booking systems. The patient experience consists of numerous touchpoints ranging from clinical appointments to hospital bills. It starts already before the beginning of treatment through the clinics’ marketing communications and continues after discharge through self-care and follow-up. All these touchpoints must be designed to form a coherent whole. For many patients, the bad experiences arise from the undesigned gaps in the process – places where continuity of care, communication or treatment relationships break down. The patient also needs to be seen holistically, not just as a receiver of care, but as a human being with unique needs, emotions and life beyond the illness.

Experience maps are an excellent tool for understanding the whole patient journey, with its numerous touchpoints. Experience maps are not just process descriptions from the patient’s point of view, but also capture qualitative aspects of the patient journey, such as patients’ emotions and their pain points along the process. Emotions can range from fear and anxiety to hope or relief and pain points can be practical or emotional. Service blueprints help understand the processes behind the service as the patient sees it and to help see the service from the viewpoints of different staff members. Fluent backend processes are vital for providing continuity of care and efficiency in practice.

Services are never “done” – iteration is required

A service is not a one-off project – it’s never done. Continuous improvement is required not only because the environment is constantly changing but also because no human-made design can ever be perfect. The learning starts when the service leaves the drawing board and is exposed to the world.

Building the service iteratively from the start avoids a lot of headaches. Trying out different approaches through prototyping is an affordable way to choose the best approaches before heavy investments. Service prototypes, measuring success and testing with real patients and staff are vital for validating assumptions, increasing learning and removing wrinkles in the experience.

Conclusion

Healthcare services should be developed holistically and iteratively together with end users. Running a successful service design project requires an experienced practitioner – so hire a professional or make sure your technology partner has one. However, improving the patient experience starts from the organization’s culture. Patient experience is easier to support when the culture is patient-centered, keen for improvement and cooperative.

If you’re interested in how digital services can support patient experience in cancer care, download our whitepaper.

Written by Emil Virkki, UX Designer at Kaiku Health

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