Empowerment, access, and compassion. This is Joyce K Nazario’s formula for exceptional patient experience, she tells Hospital Insights Asia.
Nazario, the Assistant Vice President and Head of the Patient Experience Group of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, the Philippines, notes how patients these days have come to expect a certain level of customer service just as much as they expect high quality care. “They want excellent service, too, which means—among other things—care delivered with more ease, convenience, and choice,” Nazario notes.
Hospital leaders need to realise that patient experience can have a very real impact on a hospital’s future. As Nazario puts it, “the sustainability of a healthcare organisation is in its loyal patients and their power to recommend us”. She reveals St. Luke’s patient experience philosophy in this exclusive interview.
The rise of “healthcare consumerism”, as the phenomenon is called, requires healthcare providers to constantly innovate, according to a 2019 Becker’s Hospital Review article. But tech is only half of the picture. The devil is in the details, according to Nazario, and in her experience, it takes three key elements.
First and foremost, hospitals need to empower and engage patients and their families from the outset, Nazario says. At St. Luke’s, all communication with the patients have a feedback loop. “At all points of the journey, the processes, options, and possible outcomes are explained and are acknowledged in a way that the patient and family understand,” she explains.
This goes a long way in building a relationship between hospital and patient, and helps to prevent any communication breakdowns. Clinicians are also able to engage their patients better on treatment choices available to them, Nazario explains.
Second, hospitals can boost patient experience by improving access to healthcare services. At St. Luke’s, this takes the form of value-based care that is “within the financial capacity of the patient”, says Nazario. Good communication is the foundation for this: “There will be provider-patient relationship discussions on the financial capacity of each family, understanding the resources available, and guiding the family through costs,” she adds.
The end goal here is to ensure that patients that need frequent procedures receive affordable care packages that provide the best quality care possible. Meanwhile, for those with chronic and catastrophic illnesses, Nazario hopes to ensure that “throughout the journey, the patient and family retain the level of financial capability they had on Day 1”. By bundling payments, healthcare systems can “control out of pocket payments as well as government spending”, she points out.
Finally, it is key for hospitals to focus on the little things. Small comforts and thoughtful touches matter most to the patient when they are at their most vulnerable. “It’s the little things they remember. A very comfy blanket, a small aromatherapy inhaler, having someone to talk through their fears. These things stick with our patients,” Nazario points out.
There are several ways that the hospital crafts a welcoming environment for patients. The hospital has spaces where healthcare discussions can be had in a private and confidential setting, for instance, Nazario says. The priority should be making sure that “patients and their families feel our compassion, and that their dignity and privacy are respected during their whole time with us”.
It is also important to respect patients’ religious preferences. Muslim patients receive halal food, and if they are female, will be assigned a female bedside nurse in keeping with Muslim religious requirements, according to Nazario.
“We understand every patient’s journey is unique,” she continues. “We want to deliver excellent clinical outcomes by creating efficiencies in our processes, while also leaving room to make sure we address each patient’s individual needs.”
Patient experience in the Philippines
Nazario goes on to share her key takeaways from her role. The Universal Health Care Law (UHC) was passed in 2019 by the government, at a crucial time for the country’s healthcare system. Here is some context: out-of-pocket expenses made up 54 percent of the country’s 2016 healthcare spending, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
Filipinos carry the biggest burden when their loved ones seek treatment. They therefore only consult a doctor when their illnesses are at their worst, the report said.
What does this mean for patient experience leads in the Philippines? “If a future iteration of the UHC is similar to the US model, which takes into consideration patient experience scores when reimbursing healthcare spending, patient experience scores will have a financial impact on healthcare institutions—especially in the private sector,” Nazario says.
And to create a culture of great patient experience, change the “tone at the top”, Nazario says. This helps with buy-in across the entire hospital. “Our President and CEO always says “Great Patient Experience” in his conversations with the organisation,” she explains.
Equally, a great employee experience is foundational for a great patient experience. To reduce the burden of administrative work on clinicians, St. Luke’s is currently rolling out an Electronic Medical Records system that will connect its two sites.
This lets doctors spend more time with patients, instead of on paperwork. “This will be the only full-scale EMR in the Philippines to date,” Nazario adds.
Ultimately, as Nazario concludes, the hospital has kept its focus on patient experience constant throughout the years “by keeping our ear to the ground and making sure we set our patients’ needs as our guides”. This is particularly relevant in the current climate, even as hospitals and healthcare systems have had to pivot to address the needs of COVID-19. “A realignment of both priorities and policies is necessary after this crisis passes,” Nazario concludes.