Hospitals invariably bring to mind the image of rooms filled with sick people, waiting hours for their turn to see the physician. But need it be so?

“We know that patient experience matters,” said Tamsin Greulich-Smith, Chief of the Smart Health Leadership Centre at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Systems Science, at the SAS Analytics Insights Exchange summit yesterday.

The problem lies in actually measuring and quantifying what patient experience means, and then doing something about it, she noted.

Building a healing environment

Often, hospitals’ performance is measured based on clinical excellence, patient safety track record, and continuous improvement, Greulich-Smith said. But patients expect more than these. “We take this for granted; this is the health care provider’s problem, this is behind the scenes,” she said.

However, hospitals often neglect the social aspects of the patients’ experience as these are more difficult to measure than clinical outcomes, she added. From the very start, they want to feel reassured, cared for, and respected, said Greulich-Smith. They also want healthcare professionals to listen to, understand, and remember them.

This “front of house experience” is what patients focus on, and are most affected by. “A lot of hospitals here are looking into, how can we make sure we remember the patient when they walk in the door? How can I know you when you come in?”

“A lot of hospitals here are looking into, how can we make sure we remember the patient when they walk in the door? How can I know you when you come in?”

Data is powerful

Data can play a “very powerful role” in putting the spotlight on this issue, she said, by providing evidence to build and sustain buy-in to this change. However, hospitals must change how they use data in order to drive better patient experience, she added. “It’s collecting the data that matters to what you’re trying to achieve, and then using it to build buy in,” she explained.

For instance, data visualisations can help hospitals “explain to people why they’re doing what they’re doing, and to show progress along the way”. Digital technology and social media can also play a part in helping hospitals gain insights into patient experience, especially when the number of data collection points during a patient journey are “considerable”. Greulich-Smith and her team are working with SG Enable, a disability services and support organisation, to build a toolkit to measure social outcomes.

Humans at the heart

The caregivers themselves also need to be reoriented to focus on the patient experience. It will be a cultural, transformative change across an entire hospital, and “data cannot drive change on its own”, Greulich-Smith said. “You have to connect the dots between people, and then validate that with data underneath.”

Here, hospitals will need to build capabilities. A 2016 survey by the European Health Parliament showed how over 80% of healthcare professionals believed that their e-health and mobile health training was inadequate, Greulich-Smith pointed out. Hospitals should bear in mind that front-line workers, who are key to ensuring a positive patient experience, may not possess the skills right off the bat to make sense of data. “People who aren’t actually from an analytics background find that massively overwhelming.”

“We know there’s more to be done, and that’s what we’re trying to do in our institute, pairing up the industry professionals with enough skills that they know how to work with the experts in the field,” she said.

At the heart of healthcare is people, and ensuring that health workers are equipped to help the sick and wounded to feel as welcome and cared for as they should. “I am very passionate about making sure we put the human back in the picture, because data can only do so much,” Greulich-Smith concluded.