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Making the case for improving patient experience

Photo of a patient

It is imperative that the NHS now makes a concerted effort to collect a body of evidence that will convince business leaders across the service of the importance of investing in improving patient experience.

The business case for experience includes: the evidence of the impact of experience on organisational reputation, the impact of patient choice and increased control of care and treatment on experience, the link between experience and health outcomes, the link between experience and cost of care and the relationship between staff and patient experience.

There is emerging evidence that organisations with a strong emphasis on providing high-quality patient experience have found that it is linked to better health outcomes.

Feeling better? Improving patient experience in hospital, NHS Confederation, 2010

Research overseas has linked positive patient experience and lower overhead costs and the What Matters to Patients research has shown that is now imperative that we start to collect evidence of the link between experience and cost of care.

There are a number of relative policy documents, drivers, incentives and sanctions that make improving patient experience an imperative, and a useful place to start is always the NHS Constitution. The NHS Constitution was created to protect NHS England and ensure that it will always do the things it was set up to do in 1948 – to provide high-quality healthcare that’s free and for everyone.

The Constitution establishes the principles and values of high quality healthcare and sets out the rights to which patients, public and staff are entitled.

One of the seven key principles is that the NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism:

“In the provision of high-quality care that is safe, effective and focused on patient experience; in the planning and delivery of the clinical and other services it provides; in the people it employs and the education, training and development they receive; in the leadership and management of its organisations; and through its commitment to innovation and to the promotion and conduct of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population.”

When a patient feels less stressed about their care, their recovery time is significantly deceased. Cole-King and Harding; Norman; Weinman et al 2008.

Providing a poor service costs money and it is clear, from current feedback, that the NHS is not yet providing a consistently positive experience. People, including NHS staff, talk about and share their experiences and therefore have the power to influence both choice and reputation. Development of this guidance involved visiting a number of commercial sector organisations to explore how they approach customer experience. It was a revealing exercise and despite the complexity of health care provision, which means that we can't always automatically transfer learning, there was much that was relevant.

What we learned from the commercial sector is that the staff experience and the organisational culture that supports it are the most important elements of any customer experience programme.

In these successful organisations customer experience was at the forefront of recruitment decisions - "we hire for attitude, not fire for attitude". The well-researched and monitored customer experience constantly informs training and support decisions made for staff. Often it is these 'empowered staff' who are free to 'go the extra mile' for the customer and are rewarded by the organisation for doing so.

In the health service we have an added advantage: there are a number of reasons why people choose to work in public services, and we can consider that the values in the Constitution will be share by many. These values are a powerful lever in building interest in delivering positive patient experiences and the changes that are required to make this happen.

Senior leadership and support for experience is essential, in fact, in a number of commercial sites we were told: "if you don't have the genuine and visible support of the senior team, if they don't get the importance of customer experience, then don't bother."

The content that follows provides a rich source of research evidence, stories from patients and staff, along with many examples of innovative ideas and it illustrates a range of well-tested techniques to help you work more closely with patients to understand their experience and use it to improve services.

The essential guide for transforming patient experience

Transforming Patient Experience: the essential guide

What you are already doing: Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Volunteers test out/check if patient experience action plans are being implemented. Volunteers testing action plans following national patients surveys.

Patient experience and engagement resources Resources to support you with patient engagement and experience