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During the current pandemic, it feels poignant to reflect on patient experience and what it really means.
Covid-19 has brought challenges we have never encountered and affected patients’ experience of healthcare, particularly if they have not had the direct support of their loved ones. The NHS Friends and Family Test is likely to be seen as unnecessary and inappropriate at this time: when wards are full and patients critically ill, do they care if the service would be recommended?
“What feels like an ordinary day at work is often extraordinary for a patient”
The idea that patient experience equates to customer satisfaction may look very different in the future. Health experience is based on individual expectations, perceptions and interactions; it is beyond any survey or question.
Professionals could be accused of trivialising care: what feels like an ordinary day at work is often extraordinary for a patient. Ensuring patients’ experiences are individual can feel impossible in a pandemic, but it is achievable by ensuring that every interaction matters and treating every procedure with care, compassion and respect.
Patients will forgive a cancelled appointment or a lengthy wait in the emergency department if they are treated with compassion and spoken to with respect. This does not cost money, or even time, but is fundamental to delivering a good-quality patient experience. When we analyse service-user feedback and data, poor experience is often attributed to a lack of dignity or a failure to deliver compassionate care.
Earlier this year, I was redeployed into intensive care nursing, where I had worked for nearly 20 years before moving into a patient experience role. During the pandemic, I have seen frontline teams striving to provide good patient experience; locally and nationally there are countless examples of NHS staff going above and beyond to deliver compassionate care. As an example, over their personal protective equipment, nurses have worn photographs and the words, “Hello, my name is…” so they can connect with patients. I’m sure Dr Kate Granger would be proud that her legacy lives on, even in a pandemic.
Across the country, we have reached out to local communities to knit hearts for patients and their loved ones as a gesture of hope in a time of desperation. Although acts like this are often reserved for end-of-life care, this is now the new normal. Patients have received food parcels when discharged from hospital to ensure their basic needs are met when they get home, midwives have ensured home births are possible for new mothers, and volunteers have become frontline responders, supporting the needs of older people, the vulnerable and the lonely.
Technology has been embraced: medical teams hold video calls with patients’ relatives to keep them up to date on treatment plans and alleviate concerns, and staff transcribe and read aloud messages to patients who are not allowed visitors. Virtual visits have also enabled those in isolation in hospitals and care homes to feel less alone and video appointments with clinicians have ensured outpatients still receive care.
This crisis will pass but I hope the innovations borne out of it will lead to a recalibrated, personalised experience of NHS care. We should reflect on what patient experience work is really about and redefine it based on the core elements of: listening and connecting with others on a human level; valuing lived experience and individualised care; flexible and coordinated services; effective communication; and accessibility, dignity, respect and compassion.
Joanne McAllister is head of patient and service user experience and nurse at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group