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Can the Bible Teach Hospitals to Improve Patient Experience? 5 Lessons from “The Great Physician.”

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Patient Experience, not to be confused with patient satisfaction, has become a critical goal for hospitals and health systems, and a key driver for national healthcare reform. The best, simple definition for patient experience is: “everything we say and do that affects our patients’ thoughts, feelings, and well-being.” Why is patient experience important? Not only does the federal government mandate that all hospitals assess both quality and patient experience metrics; organizations that fail to follow protocols are levied with reimbursement penalties that impact their bottom line. It goes without saying: hospital administrators and physicians are paying attention.

Thankfully, improving patient experience isn’t just about avoiding penalties: higher scores are legitimately associated with better quality of care. Financially, if a hospital provides healthier outcomes to happier patients, they should ultimately capture a greater market share within their local community. So, for all intents and purposes: improving patient experience is good, and it’s good for everybody. This is precisely why health systems across America are investing millions of dollars each year in technology, infrastructure, communication systems, and employee training that aim to improve patient experience at their facilities.

However, despite millions in spending and countless hours focusing on the patient experience, could the most effective and influential blueprint costs next to nothing, and be lying on a pew in the hospital chapel, just off the lobby?

That blueprint is the Bible.

Regardless of your personal religious beliefs, there is no denying the influence and impact that Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Bible, has had on our world. Christianity is currently the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.4 billion followers, which represents 31% of earth’s population. It goes without saying: Jesus is an influential teacher.

Those familiar with the Bible know that Jesus wore many hats during his time on earth: student, carpenter, recruiter, preacher, teacher, and even martyr. Yet, one of his most significant roles is sometimes overlooked, especially in the secular world: healer. Throughout the four biographical gospels of the Bible, there are dozens of accounts of Jesus performing miraculous healing, so much so that many Christians and non-Christians alike refer to Jesus as “The Great Physician.”

So, what can one of history’s most influential and effective physicians teach us about healing people well?

How can the Bible help healthcare professionals to “say” and “do” things that positively influence their patients’ “thoughts, feelings, and well-being?”

Here are 5 Lessons from the Great Physician.:

Lesson 1: Listen first, and listen well.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” – James 1:19

Sometimes, listening is more than just a means to obtain information: it is an expression of genuine care and empathy for the speaker. Our patients want to ‘feel’ like their caregivers actually care about the care they are giving. From parking lot to operating table, demonstrating deep, genuine listening skills has a dramatic impact on both quality outcomes AND the patients perception of the quality of care they received.

Tips to Improve Listening Skills:

  • Ask open-ended questions, unless closed-ended questions are necessary
  • Use clarifying questions to demonstrate understanding and attentiveness
  • Use Active Listening skills, such as mirroring, eye contact, and affirmation
  • Use welcoming and friendly non-verbal communication
  • Jot down small personal details, and reference in future encounters

Lesson 2: Practice servant leadership, from top-to-bottom.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10 : 45

Starting with hospital leadership and extending through each and every team member, a hospital team should practice servant leadership at all levels. Servant leaders are people who feel a deep duty of stewardship to others: their co-workers, their organization, and most importantly, their customers. Jesus taught that true leaders must be sacrificial, humble, compassionate, and sincere. Not only does servant leadership build camaraderie and trust within teams, but studies show that it improves quality metrics at hospitals that focus on serving people deep and wide.

So what does a hospital full of servant leaders look like? It looks like a security guard who assists a patient in locating the right elevator instead of referring them to the welcome desk. It’s a physician who offers to snap a picture of new parents with their infant when it’s after business hours for the hospital photographer. It’s a CFO who takes a moment to clean paper towels off the restroom floor before a patient’s family member discovers them. It looks like compassion and humility, and overtime the cumulative effect is a loving & supportive culture that patients can feel………..and experience.

Lesson 3: Be the calm during their storm.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11 : 29-30

Health issues are scary, and we should never forget that. By the time we meet patients for the first time, they are often afraid not only of what they know about their condition, but also what they don’t know. The fear of physical sickness, coupled with the anxiety of uncertainty, is a lethal concoction of stress. Often times our own preoccupation with the “daily grind” disables our ability to be the calming presence they so desperately need.

Jesus fully understood the nature of the men and women he sought to save, and was very intentional to communicate in a way that eased their troubled hearts. As hospital employees, whether it’s our first or thousandth patient encounter, we should never lose the perspective of what it ‘feels’ like to be a patient, and we should communicate with the appropriate empathy they deserve.

Lesson 4: Plan the work, and work the plan.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” – Luke 14 : 28

Throughout Jesus’ ministry to his disciples, he emphasized the importance of traits such as planning, diligence, and perseverance. Jesus knew that his mission, and the mission his disciples would carry on without him, was a difficult one. This is why he was so intentional to organize, plan, and prepare for the future.

In the book of Proverbs it says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Although one-on-one patient encounters are the cornerstone of patient experience initiatives, detailed processes will provide the framework for success. When seeking to implement initiatives to improve patient experience at your hospital, be sure to map out a comprehensive blueprint to plan, launch, track, analyze, and react to your new initiatives.

Tips for Mastering Planning and Preparation:

  • Organize small groups to assess focus areas for improvement
  • Distribute surveys to key departments to identify additional needs
  • Set SMART goals, and strive to achieve them
  • Delegate execution to key department leaders and assign regular follow-up meetings to assess performance metrics
  • Streamline communication between departments to ensure consistent best practices are upheld
  • If necessary, consult with patient experience experts

Lesson 5: To love others, you must also love yourself.

“The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12 : 31

Jesus taught to love ALL people, but he did not overlook the importance of valuing yourself. This doesn’t mean glorifying selfishness, but instead means understanding self-love is key to a healthy life.

How can you be expected to optimally care for your patients if you do not first care for yourself? The truth is if you neglect your own basic needs for rest and relaxation, your patient care, and patient communication, will suffer. In a time when physician burnout is at an all-time high, this may seem easier said than done. However, even if your current work volume or staffing model doesn’t allow you to work less, there are some tried-and-true steps you can take to work smarter, and feel better in and outside the workplace.

Tips for reducing stress and avoiding burnout:

  • Ensure you are getting adequate sleep
  • Reduce daily stress through periodic meditation throughout the day
  • Practice mindfulness exercises
  • Perform regular moderate intensity cardiovascular and conditioning exercises
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, TELL SOMEONE! You are not alone

When considering how to positively influence patient experience at your hospital, approach the project with an “inside-out” mentality: if you change the attitudes of your team members, you’ll change the altitude of your success. All of the above teachings are simple, yet strikingly effective and can be summed up in this way: if you genuinely care about your patients, and diligently prepare to improve their lives, you’ll have success.

And if you are looking for the blue-print to start that journey, remember: you’ll find some good study materials in the chapel…and it’s just off the lobby.

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