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Little voice, big impact – so why aren’t we listening?

Asking people for their opinion on issues that are relevant to them and communicating with them in a way that is appropriate for them is a natural consideration in most areas of life, but in healthcare all too often it’s a formula that slips by the wayside.

Earlier this month the results from the first NHS national children and young people’s survey for 10 years were released. The publication has been well received and whilst it represents a positive step forward – and may even be considered by some as innovative and pioneering – to me, gaining feedback from lesser heard voices should not be an event that happens on a national scale every decade, it should be the norm.

All experiences matter

To be most effective, services must consistently listen to users’ experiences, in order to create care processes that meet their needs. This is particularly important for those with more specialist requirements.

Until this happens, we won’t hear the voice of the twenty something man with depression, who after being told he had five minutes for his GP appointment, felt so rushed he left without seeking the help he needed; or the girl with Sickle Cell Disorder whose requests for pain relief were dismissed by A&E staff; or the young man with a learning disability who struggled to read the information leaflet that they were handed in an outpatients clinic, but was too embarrassed to say anything.

So why is it that we are still missing these experiences? Is it that it’s too difficult?  That we simply don’t know how or what to ask them? Or even that we are afraid of what they might say? Whatever the reason, the solution remains the same. We must find the desire and confidence to ensure they are not missed.

Understanding is key

An appropriate and often bespoke approach needs to start not only with knowledge of why we are seeking feedback, but an understanding of the subject matter. While patient experience is a current healthcare “buzz word”, we need to be sure that we actually understand what it is. To me the quote above, from a child, answering to whether anything could have been better, sums it up perfectly.

For this child in particular their care experience is a very negative one. One that could so easily have been changed by taking a softer tone and considering their feelings, acknowledging that  they may be scared and need some reassurance. In essence providing better quality care through improved communication that better met the patients’ needs.

Patient experience is more than how happy we are with the clinical care provided. It is the sum total of all the interactions, communications, feelings and emotions an individual experiences as they travel along their patient journey. Research has shown that Emotionally charged experiences are remembered with greater clarity than others, and that negative experiences far outweigh positive ones in terms of their impact on individual thoughts and behaviour. When we are in need of health and social care both these elements of human psychology are naturally heightened, hence the importance of understanding peoples experiences and ensuring they are as positive as they can be, is paramount.

Think back to the missed experience of the man living with depression, trying to access services, the girl living with sickle cell trying to get appropriate pain relief and the young man with learning difficulties trying to access information. Each of their needs was at the time unmet and without seeking to understand their experiences in detail, the care provider would have remained unaware that this was the case.

In order to bring about lasting improvements in care quality for all, we must be willing and able to systematically and routinely listen to, and act upon, those ‘little’ voices.

Bridget Hopwood is Director of Health Experiences at Picker

Tags: Children and Young People, NHS, patient experience, Patient feedback.

See Also:

How can Sickle Cell Disease patients be better engaged in their care?

You have been actively involved in SCD research during your clinical career, what initially peaked your interest about this disorder specifically? As a paediatrician I have come across SCD at all stages of my career, but my research interest developed about 10 years ago, when I was working in Southampton with Professor…

19 June, 2014

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