Laying the Foundation for Patient Experience Excellence

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Johnson, William_PhotoBy William R. Johnson, CRA, FAHRA, MBA

Over the last several years, the patient experience has become both a focal point and sore spot across the healthcare industry. Not only are healthcare leaders challenged to deliver high quality services, in a safe environment, at a lower cost, and with fewer resources; but patients must also be highly satisfied with their experiences during the healthcare encounter. Experts have created many techniques to help improve the patient’s experience, but the methodologies to integrate these techniques into workplace culture are sometimes absent from the implementation plan. Ultimately it is workplace culture that determines how successfully any strategy will be executed and how effectively new behaviors can be ‘hardwired’ into everyday work life.

When developing patient satisfaction strategies the leader must ensure the proper cultural foundation exists if the patient experience is to be improved. Ultimately the leader is responsible for the health of the workplace culture. The most effective leader creates and designs a culture of high performance, and the ineffective leader allows a culture to create itself by default. The default culture is often self-serving when it comes to performance and is counterproductive to the organization.

The fate of every brilliant strategy ultimately falls into the hands of workplace culture. An old proverb states, “Culture eats strategy for lunch every day.” My personal twist on that proverb is, “If culture is eating strategy for lunch, then leadership has become the appetizer.”

If the culture is healthy and ready to support a patient experience improvement initiative, then the leader must determine where to focus resources to ensure improvement. The leader must also ensure patient experience strategies are effectively communicated and reinforced with staff at all levels. In addition, and most importantly, the leader as a change agent must consistently model the language and behaviors proven to result in positive patient experiences.

There are countless influencers of the patient’s perceptions during a healthcare encounter, most of which fall under two basic categories: processes and people. These are the two areas the leader should focus upon when developing a patient experience improvement strategy.

When focusing on processes the goal is to achieve efficiencies. Moving the patient through the healthcare encounter as safely and efficiently as possible improves patient satisfaction. Find ways to make the experience as seamless as possible, regardless of the number of touch points, stops, or ‘silos’ that exist. Efficiencies give time back to the patient and also help improve workflow, productivity, and contributions to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, processes can break down during times of high stress caused by such things as an unexpected spike in patient volumes, equipment failure, or staffing shortages. When processes fail the only tools available for patient service recovery are the social skills of patient-facing staff. In essence, the culture of the workplace is strongly determined by how members of the team, including the leader, communicate and interact with one another. This is why the leader must ensure the culture is healthy and that all staff demonstrate and practice civility throughout the day.

During my Spring Conference presentation on Thursday, March 17, Laying the Foundation for Patient Experience Excellence, I will review several other areas of importance in regards to patient experience initiatives. I look forward to the opportunity meet you in Chicago. For more information on the Spring Conference sessions, schedule, and registration, please visit

William R. Johnson, CRA, FAHRA, MBA is the executive director, patient & guest services/patient experience officer at The Christ Hospital Health Network in Cincinnati, OH. He can be reached at


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