Last week in my local hospital outpatients department, I received yet another survey to complete.
This one I actually filled in, not because I was being a good, compliant patient but because the person who handed it to me didn’t just thrust it into my hand with an “oh by the way, could you fill this in and leave it over there?” Instead the receptionist came over, sat down next to me, smiled and asked me if I wouldn’t mind filling in a patient survey. She explained why it was important and asked if I had any questions. She then sat patiently and listened as I sought clarification.
This experience left me thinking about how this hospital chose to go about engaging with me, focussing mostly on surveys and questionnaires. The receptionist had humanised the process this time around by explaining its purpose to me. However their usual approach – telling me to fill it in with no explanation – chimed with that unpleasant sense of being a hospital number caught up in procedures and practices. Procedures and practices designed, not with a primary focus on improving my experience, but to ensure that the hospital complied with various compulsory government dictates, regulatory frameworks and compliance measures.
I know how I feel being on the receiving end of such a mechanistic system and so it is no surprise to hear NHS staff talk about how they feel browbeaten, pressured and controlled by this same system and the culture it gives rise to. I believe it takes courage, emotional maturity and self-motivation to deliver great, compassionate care and build supportive relationships with patients and carers within what must sometimes feel like such an uncaring culture and environment. I am always amazed that there are so many NHS staff still working so hard to ensure the system truly meets the needs of patients and carers – I take my hat off to them. It is these staff, not the information or data contained in any survey, who improve my ‘patient experience’ and the quality of care I receive.
Now as a self-empowered patient I know that there has to be a better way for the system to engage with me besides questionnaires and surveys. I believe it is through the quality of the relationships built between patients and those staff who are committed to delivering quality and compassionate care. As a patient leader I can play a critical and important role in influencing healthcare organisations to focus their attention and energy on building these quality relationships.
In my role as a patient leader engaging with the healthcare system, I have been fortunate to work with and build powerful, productive and healing relationships with staff teams. I have worked supporting them to reconnect to the original reasons they entered into healthcare. It is fantastic to watch as that emotional connection is made and they rediscover their passion and desire to make a difference to the lives and wellbeing of others.
It is these individuals who, through conversations grounded in dialogue with patients and patient leaders, take back ownership and leadership for healthcare at the ‘coalface’. It is these individuals who, independent of survey and questionnaire results, know instinctively what the patient needs and if they don’t know then they know how to find out.
Through a process of supportive dialogue I have watched these healthcare teams explore problems and issues using their collective strengths, insights, experiences and knowledge. Through this process and their collective wisdom they have uncovered and found new opportunities, solutions and ideas to old, seemingly intractable problems. With a focus on moving forward they have created a powerful guiding vision for their team. The creativity of the team then uncovers practical steps to move towards that vision.
The patient as leader can bring something fresh, new and potentially life changing to how we build a healthcare system for for the 21st century. Embedded in what they bring to their work is a focus on the critical importance of building relationships rather than new engagement structures. The mindset that gives rise to this has embedded in it the centrality of a set of values and principles that guides our actions and choices on a day to day basis and truly has the patient at the centre of everything we and the NHS does.
It’s less about getting the engagement structures, systems and practices right and in place and more about building a network of emotionally committed individuals including staff, patient and members of the public who are inspired to work together to achieve excellent care and an outstanding experience for all concerned.