A Guide for Nurse Leaders: What Is Patient Experience and Why Is It Important?
The quality of patient experience has declined significantly since the coronavirus pandemic, as healthcare staff was stretched thin due to unprecedented demands. Responses to patient experience surveys indicate that many aspects are lagging—staff responsiveness, communication, and care transition, to name a few. The good news is that nurse leaders can influence positive change.
This blog answers the question, “What is patient experience?” and explains how making improvements supports better healthcare outcomes. You'll also learn how nurse leaders can take their leadership to the next level to transform the patient experience.
What Is Patient Experience?
Patient experience refers to all the ways patients engage with the healthcare system. It includes interactions with health plans, healthcare providers, and facilities. Together, these interactions shape patients’ perceptions of healthcare delivery and can even influence patient health outcomes.
Many factors affect patient experience. Nurse leaders who understand them in-depth can effectively develop, plan, and implement improvements—even if they cannot influence the entire patient experience.
The physical environment, communication, timeliness of care, and healthcare costs are a few critical elements of patient experience:
- Physical Environment: The physical environment of a healthcare setting affects how patients interact with it. According to a study of patient experience in hospitals, environmental factors such as floor material, room features, lighting, and music influence patient experience.
- Communication: How healthcare providers interact with patients and their colleagues matters. For example, research suggests a positive relationship between nurse managers’ caring behaviors and the patient experience. Patient experience improves when nurses believe their managers foster caring behaviors with them, like trust and collaborative decision-making.
- Timeliness of Care: The timeliness of care refers to patients’ ability to find and receive care after recognizing a need. It involves interactions like contacting healthcare providers, scheduling appointments, and waiting for test results. Perceived delays can create emotional distress for patients, whereas perceived urgency can be a relief.
- Healthcare Costs: Healthcare costs are an increasingly critical part of patient experience. Rising costs prevent many patients from accessing and seeking out necessary care. They can also limit patients’ care options, confidence in the healthcare system, and ability to follow treatment plans.
Why Is Patient Experience Important?
Patient experience is important because it reflects quality healthcare.
At the heart of the patient experience is patient-centered care. A positive patient experience respects and responds to individuals' preferences, needs, and values. As a result, health outcomes improve. A few outcomes positively associated with patient experience are patient satisfaction, adherence to treatment plans, safety, and health status.
Nurse leaders play a critical role in fostering a culture of patient-centered care. They can lead by example, develop education and training programs, design patient feedback systems, and promote interdisciplinary collaboration. By improving the patient experience, nurse leaders help achieve positive healthcare outcomes.
Patient experience and patient satisfaction are closely related. Patient experience refers to patients’ actual interactions with a healthcare system. Patient satisfaction is about how those interactions compare with patients’ expectations. The way patients experience care can directly impact their satisfaction.
Research into patient satisfaction reveals what people expect from their healthcare experiences. A survey of almost 12,000 people identified the top expectations to be:
- Emotionally supportive healthcare providers who communicate medical information clearly.
- Convenient, accessible healthcare interactions, such as virtual consultations and electronic health records.
- The protection of personal health data.
- Affordable healthcare services and interventions.
When healthcare interactions meet patients’ expectations, satisfaction improves.
Patient experience also affects patients’ compliance with medical advice and treatment. For example, clear and empathetic communication with healthcare providers positively correlates with patient experience. In one study, higher medication adherence was associated with more attentive provider behaviors, such as addressing patients’ questions and concerns and including the patient in healthcare decisions.
Many aspects of patient experience can significantly impact safety outcomes. Healthcare providers and institutions that listen to, value, and empower patients enable patients to actively promote their own safety and that of the healthcare organization.
Here are a few examples of how patient experience affects safety:
- Encouraging patients to report safety concerns—and addressing them—can lead to proactive risk mitigation.
- Sharing decision-making with patients may improve patients’ ability to understand and follow treatment plans and safety protocols.
- Providing culturally competent care can reduce the risk of miscommunication related to cultural differences.
A positive patient experience often enhances health outcomes. An experience built on trust, engagement, and communication promotes patient participation. As a result, healthcare providers can effectively assess, diagnose, and treat health conditions.
For example, people who reported a positive patient experience in hospitals following a heart attack also experienced better outcomes one year post-discharge.
How to Measure Patient Experience?
Healthcare organizations evaluate patient experience to identify areas for improvement. They use patient focus groups, interviews, and surveys.
Surveys are the most common measurement tool. Many healthcare settings employ standardized surveys, such as the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) or Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS).
CAHPS surveys help healthcare organizations report on and assess the patient experience with health plans, providers, and facilities.
CAHPS offers more than 15 patient experience surveys. Most of the surveys focus on assessing the patient experience in outpatient healthcare settings. They include the Cancer Care Survey, Nursing Home Survey, and Clinician & Group Survey.
With CAHPS surveys, organizations can learn their strengths and weaknesses and track their improvement over time.
The HCAHPS survey assesses how patients perceive their hospital stay. Participating hospitals administer the survey each month to a random sample of patients 48 hours to six weeks after discharge.
The survey questions focus on vital aspects of the patient experience in hospitals, including:
- Interactions with nurses and doctors
- Staff responsiveness
- Cleanliness and quietness of the hospital
The HCAHPS survey is a nationally administered, standardized survey. As a result, it enables the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to objectively compare hospitals and report the results.
How to Improve Patient Experience as a Nursing Leader?
Developing a positive patient experience is vital to transforming healthcare. With so many aspects of the patient experience, nurse leaders need to develop essential nursing, business, and leadership skills to drive positive change.
Many nurse leaders hone these skills through years of experience in nursing management and other fields, such as business, healthcare quality, and advocacy. Some choose to build on these experiences through professional development. One option is earning a doctoral degree in executive nurse leadership, which can give nurse leaders a distinct advantage.
The Doctor of Nursing Practice in Executive Nursing Leadership (DNP-ENL) is a terminal nursing degree for individuals with a Master of Science in Nursing or another master’s degree in business or health. DNP-ENL programs prepare nurse leaders with the competencies needed for executive nursing positions—communication, relationship management, business acumen, influence, and more.
Tami Taylor, a graduate of Baylor University’s Online DNP-ENL program, pursued the degree to grow her impact in nursing. “There is always something to learn and ways to grow in our profession, so naturally, I want to be educated at the highest level of my profession,” Tami said. “This will help me to advance the practice of nursing.”
DNP-ENL graduates like Tami are prepared for nursing executive roles, such as chief nursing officer, vice president of nursing, and chief nursing executive. These positions come with high earning potential and job satisfaction.
Improve Patient Experience as a Doctorally-Prepared Nurse Executive through Baylor University Online
If you want to expand your reach as a nurse leader, consider positioning yourself as a nurse executive. Nurse executives can improve the patient experience through strategic leadership, interdisciplinary collaboration, and patient-centered care. They're also prepared to transform entire healthcare settings and systems.
A DNP-ENL program is a formal pathway to an executive nurse career. Baylor University's DNP-ENL offers 100% online coursework, allowing candidates to work toward their degree while continuing to lead in their current role.
"This program will transform you into a bold, decisive, and exceptional leader [with] the aptitude to impact your organization, community, and the nursing profession," said Ardel Guillamas Avelino, a Baylor online DNP-ENL graduate.
Part of the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, Baylor's online DNP-ENL develops advanced business acumen and influential leadership skills that help graduates like Tami and Ardel stand out as proven nurse leaders.
Are you interested in advancing your leadership in nursing? Explore how a DNP-ENL from Baylor can help you meet your goals.