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“The key to positive patient experience is understanding” – Dr Andrew McCulloch

Patient experience is about understanding

If I took one thing away from attending The Beryl Institute’s recent Patient Experience Conference 2016, it was the above.

From Jason Wolf, President of the Beryl Institute’s opening address, asking for people’s thoughts on defining the value of positive patient experience, to every presentation that followed; the message was clear. The need to understand people and the desire to better understand their experiences and the factors that influence them, were all deeply embedded in the proceedings. It was incredibly encouraging to see that our organisational mission; to ensure people’s needs and preferences are at the heart of care provision, is not just being more broadly understood, but is widely in demand.

PX Conference 2016 key learnings:


Often scrutinised and criticised on home soil, the NHS was one of the key conference talking points. Whilst by no means was there any suggestion that the system is perfect, there was a general consensus from the healthcare influencers present, (all from English speaking regions ranging from New Zealand to Canada, the UK and of course the USA), that the service was significantly ahead of the rest of the world, in understanding and acting on lesser heard service users’ experiences, e.g. children and young people.

With some of the systems represented still focused on seeing the experiences of children and young people (CYP) through parents’ eyes, rather than speaking to them as individuals, CYP services were of particular interest. Thanks to our substantive work in developing tools that measure and support the understanding of CYP experiences, this was an area where we could offer significant input, and it was a great privilege to do so.

Values based recruitment

One of the stand out presentations was from Cynthia Mercer, CAO, Mercy Health, who spoke on the need to recruit staff not just for their clinical skillset, but their attitudes and values.

As observed in our collaboration with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, values and attitudes are core behavioural drivers that influence the way people engage with others and their work. Behaviours, like being treated with respect, dignity and compassion and being involved in care decisions, are not clinical requirements, but they can make or break the quality of someone’s care experience.

Being great at your job isn’t just about how many skills you have, and values based recruitment doesn’t just support better clinical outcomes, but forms the foundation of any great healthcare organisation.

Humanity first

If health and social care are universal services, universal listening is the only way to keep them that way. A sentiment echoed by keynote speaker, Montel Jordan. A renowned talk show host and a long term service user, who has been both misdiagnosed with breast cancer and suffered with undiagnosed Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Williams knows a thing or two about being a patient, and spoke profoundly and intelligently on the wants and needs of patients and how providers can achieve them.

As an African-American man, he has had numerous experiences of unconscious bias and diagnostic overshadowing impacting his treatment. This led to healthcare staff making damaging assumptions about him and his symptoms. Since MS is more closely associated with Caucasian women than the African-American community, he maintains staff never entertained the idea he could have the disease.

At one point in his address, Williams appealed to all present not to lose sight of their humanity, and treat people not as their condition, or perhaps their demographic, but as individuals.

Staff matter

Williams also noted the importance of staff taking care of their own physical and mental wellbeing:

“How can you be the best doctor, the best nurse, the best anybody, if you go to work every day filled with anxiety?” “Every hospital floor and clinic has hand sanitisers everywhere, and use of them has become routine. But clinicians too often look stressed, and that rubs off on patients. When do you do the face sanitiser?”

To truly deliver positive patient experiences, you can’t just treat the condition, you have to understand people (patients and staff alike) as individuals. What do you need as a human being for this care interaction to be a success in your eyes?

I found the experience of being surrounded by so many patient experience ambassadors highly inspiring and energising, and would recommend the event to anyone in a patient facing or centred role.

Tags: beryl institute, Healthcare, NHS, patient experience, value based healthcare.

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