For those of us who didn’t go to medical school, healthcare jargon can range from confusing to outright indecipherable. To help clear things up, we're going to examine the language most frequently used when discussing how healthcare providers could deliver better care.
We regularly talk about the vital need for healthcare providers to use “patient-friendly language” throughout their communications.
Simply put, patients find it much easier to follow instructions when they understand them. This is true whether it's advice found within your website, information delivered during an appointment or directions to help patients navigate your premises.
And, if you're not fluent in industry vernacular, it can be equally difficult to improve the delivery of healthcare within your organisation. Understanding the subtle differences between similar terms like patient experience and patient engagement is enough of a struggle, especially as "experts" and policy-setters have begun incorrectly using them interchangeably.
That's why we’re setting the record straight on some oft-used industry jargon, starting with the three terms commonly used by NHS trusts as the tenets of quality healthcare – patient safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience.
Here's a perfect example of why healthcare jargon is so confusing to the uninitiated. To most people, patient safety would logically cover everything from building regulations and better data protection to hospital security procedures.
However, in this context, the phrase "patient safety" specifically concerns encouraging healthcare professionals to adopt better practices to ensure patients aren't put in any unnecessary danger. One example of this is the constant effort to establish thorough hand washing protocols to counter the spread of Super Bugs like MRSA.
For an idea of how simple it can be to endanger patients, just imagine your hospital without clear and effective wayfinding. By signposting potential threats, like radiation exposure in your x-ray room, you're ensuring you don't needlessly compromise patient safety.
This is the prong of the “quality care” trident most concerned with actual treatment. Therefore, it's the element of healthcare that most resembles what was traditionally considered important by providers.
Clinical effectiveness is defined as “the application of the best knowledge, derived from research, clinical experience, and patient preferences to achieve optimum processes and outcomes of care for patients. The process involves a framework of informing, changing, and monitoring practice." (Department of Health, 1996)
Essentially, clinical effectiveness is all about providers’ ability to successfully treat patients and embrace new ways of practicing medicine based on scientific evidence.
Patient experience refers to the sum total of every interaction a patient has with their healthcare provider. That’s every touch point, every conversation and every time a patient (or prospective patient) even thinks about your healthcare organisation – from booking appointments to receiving treatment and arranging after-care.
This doesn’t necessarily concern the quality of treatment though. Instead it focuses on the everyday elements of healthcare delivery. In particular, patient experience is geared toward making it easier and less stressful for patients to access healthcare. Examples of this might be timely appointments, convenient provision of health information and good communication with healthcare professionals.
Policymakers and healthcare organisations are just now beginning to accept that patient experience can be as crucial to successful healthcare outcomes as clinical excellence. This has led to the proliferation of digital healthcare technology being utilised throughout many surgeries, hospitals and clinics, as providers attempt to recreate the customer experiences that patients receive as consumers.
PROMs, or patient recovered outcome measures, are a modern method for measuring the quality of care delivered by healthcare providers.
In short, the implementation of PROMs is an attempt by healthcare organisations to capture insight about the quality of care delivered from a wider range of patients – not just those who have something go seriously wrong.
This delivers a more complete understanding of healthcare, in which the ultimate measure of treatment isn't simply whether a patient survives, but whether they (or in some cases their family) believe the care improves their quality of life.
Patient engagement is built on the simple idea that people who take responsibility for their health are more likely to see better health outcomes. Essentially, it focuses on the elements of healthcare delivery that encourage patients to voluntarily interact with a healthcare provider or organisation.
This can be as simple empowering patients to reorder prescriptions via a patient portal instead of requiring them to attend appointments that often mean time away from work. Another example would be making health information easier for patients to access and available in patient-friendly language they naturally understand.
Patient engagement was described as a win-win for patients and healthcare providers by NHS Director of Policy and Partnerships for National Voices, Don Redding. This is hardly surprising considering the multitude of research that shows patients who are poorly engaged with their health are more likely to make poor lifestyle choices, ignore advice from healthcare professionals and take fewer preventative measures against common health issues.
In short, improving patient engagement is anything that encourages people to take a bigger role in their own healthcare.
When it comes to patient engagement, healthcare providers can be quick to improve the way they communicate with patients but often forget there is another side to getting patients involved in their healthcare.
Of course, we're talking about simply listening to your patients or what is now more commonly known as patient voice. It can be difficult to pin down exactly what constitutes patient voice, but you can effectively define it as anything that gives patients more input into their care.
One of the most important aspects of patient voice is actually empowering people to have confidence in their voice and that means going to lengths to ask them about their experiences and include them in any decisions that involve their treatment.
Although patient surveys aren't exactly a modern development, new ways of delivering questionnaires (for example via email or your digital check-in kiosk) mean providers can feel more confident about getting a response.
The increased interest in patient satisfaction has coincided with the public’s growing dissatisfaction with the NHS and uptake in demand for private healthcare – which has nearly doubled in the last five years.
It would seem healthcare providers are realising that while high levels of clinical excellence should be a given, it's becoming increasingly necessary for providers to deliver care in a manner that lives up to patients' expectations.
Obviously patient satisfaction is highly subjective and patients who receive identical care might actually have vastly differing opinions on the experience. It’s important to note that no provider can be expected to please everyone and simply giving every patient exactly what they want isn’t a solution.
The Difference Between Patient Engagement, Experience and Satisfaction
The simplest way to understand the difference between these three different, but similar, terms is to reduce them to their basic meaning:
- Patient experience focuses on what actually happens during interactions between provider and patient
- Patient satisfaction focuses on whether interactions between provider and patient live up to expectations
- Patient engagement focuses on whether the patient wants to voluntarily interact with their provider
A great example of the difference between patient experience and satisfaction concerns appointment booking:
- Measuring the patient experience would include asking if the patient had to wait more than a pre-determined amount of time that the provider considered reasonable, let’s say two weeks.
- Measuring patient satisfaction would include asking the patient how long they waited for an appointment and if they felt it was reasonable.
- Measuring patient engagement would asking how many patients were unsure how to book appointments using the patient portal.
It’s important to note that there is a huge amount of interaction between all of the above, and none of them are mutually exclusive. A patient survey can check that healthcare visits meet all the criteria for clinical excellence and measure how satisfied patients are with the visit. The survey itself is evidence of patient engagement because you’re taking the patient voice into account.
A patient may believe that the treatment they received has ultimately been beneficial, but at the same time they may have found booking a follow-up appointment difficult or been unable to access after-care advice.
While all the jargon covered in this post is important and each term has a part to play in exceptional healthcare delivery, it only comes together if you’re able to collect patient feedback After all, this move toward more patient-centred treatment can’t be successful without understanding what it is the patient expects from their healthcare experience.
As providers move further towards building patient experiences that better reflect the changing world around them, it’s vital they aren’t overlooking how they plan on understanding what that ideal patient experience looks like.
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