Patient Experience Network – a positive approach to improving care quality Part 1

We sit down with Ruth Evans, founder of The Patient Experience Network and PEN National Awards, the UK’s only celebration of positive practice in this area and our newest partner, to discuss highlights from this year’s event and what’s next for this inspiring organisation.


What led you to / inspired you to found PEN?

If you cast your mind back to five years ago, when PEN was first set up, it was a time when healthcare was getting some very negative press, to the point that it felt like no one had anything good to say about it. A very depressing and unbalanced situation. We started PEN because we wanted to give people the opportunity to have a more balanced conversation, and put the spotlight on what is working well. That’s not to say that we were or are naïve to reality. I am fully aware that bad things do happen, some people do have terrible experiences. But people also receive fantastic care, there are some great initiatives that are improving the patient experience and wanting to shout about it and give credit where it is due, is at the heart of what we do.

It’s really difficult, often people are so busy doing the doing that they just don’t have the time to look up. They just are not brilliant at banging their own drum or shouting about the positive work being done. Through PEN I wanted almost to bang the drum for them; help people see that what they are doing is really special and worth shouting about and support them to spread the word and share.

For some people, praising yourself and highlighting success comes naturally and is even part of the job, but having worked in healthcare most of my life, it’s clear that that is not the case in this area – especially when it comes to patient experience.

Healthcare workers typically are looking to diagnose a problem and then fix it, they don’t naturally see the positives. And I think a little bit of that comes into what is the challenge with patient experience. There is not a deep understanding that we have as much if not more to learn from what works well.

“It’s really difficult, often staff are so busy doing the doing that they just don’t look up. Particularly in service areas, people just are not brilliant at banging their own drum or shouting about the positive work being done. Through PEN I wanted to almost bang the drum for them.”


What role do you think patient experience plays in the care process?

Often people, particularly providers, try to “own” the patient experience. In reality this is misguided and impossible. The healthcare system can lead the experience, but no one can actually own it apart from the patient, their families and carers – the people going through the experience.

Rather than focussing on owning the entire experience, what we as healthcare professionals can do is own the input, and better measure the experience, to keep making it better and better. Improvement impacts a range of health outcomes, but I think we sometimes blindly focus on metrics rather than the value of the actual result – what it means in real terms, to the patient, and how it is going to impact their lives.

There are trusts’ desperately trying to improve their friends and family test score and getting nowhere, not realising that improving the score should not be their goal, understanding the levers and drivers that have caused that score should. It’s an emotional score, if you really want to improve it, you have to think about what you are going to do, to change the inputs’ that will affect the way people feel about their care experiences.


What advice would you give to someone trying to make their organisation / service more person centred?

We often think we are person centred, but we have a long to do list that we follow as care givers, and I think that if this list was scrutinised and we put the patient at the heart of our thinking for every point, there are a few things that could and should come off that list.

The best way to do this is to ask the patients about what really matters to them. If you engage with your patients they will help you prioritise. Adopt this approach as an individual professional or department and you will create a pocket of brilliance. But to embed this behaviour consistently, you need a cultural change and leadership commitment that will enable it.

For person centred care to be effective, there has to be an organisation wide commitment to patient experience. I don’t doubt that leaders are genuinely committed to improving experience, but often, what they say and do, don’t always correlate or communicate this message. Actions and words need to be aligned. For example, on the surface you may see a leader conducting a ward walk about, and think great! But look closer, and ask yourself are they genuinely doing them? What time are they happening? Who are they talking to? What’s the real purpose?


“For person centred care to be affective, there has to be an organisation wide commitment to patient experience.”


How does PEN support NHS care improvements?

I like to think that we are raising the profile and stretching the boundary of what good is, by showcasing what great organisations are doing – setting the bar for best practice.

I think showing what good really, looks like, helps people see where they sit on the journey of improvement, and to be a bit more honest with themselves about the service they provide.

Through our approach we hope we create the will, show the way, and inspire and give the energy to be better.


“PEN is an energising and inspiring charge to do better.”

PEN Logo AI6


 Part 2 of Ruth’s interview; PEN the future and highlights so far, will be published on Wednesday 6th May 2015


Tags: Partnerships, Patient Experience Network Awards, PEN, Ruth Evans.

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