Global Perspective: What We Learn About Patient Experience From Other Healthcare Cultures
Jan 18, 2023 Heitham Hassoun, MD
Culture shapes the practice of medicine in many ways, and experience teaches us that establishing effective, sustainable programs in unfamiliar countries often involves steep challenges. Fortunately, we also learn that cultural differences offer rich opportunities. The unique features of another country’s healthcare system can be a source of new insights and solutions.
It was gratifying to see cross-cultural learning very much in evidence during the panel I recently moderated at the International Hospital Federation (IHF) 2022 World Hospital Congress in Dubai, an annual global gathering that welcomes healthcare professionals from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and North America.
Our topic was "The patient: always at the center of all that we do." Panelists included Idris Guessous, a professor from the University Hospital of Geneva; Dr. Hariprasad Kovelamudi from Apollo Hospitals in India; and my colleague Alan Dubovsky, vice president and chief patient experience officer at Cedars-Sinai.
At first glance, the importance of placing the patient at the center of our work seems axiomatic. After all, patients are the raison d’être for healthcare. However, as anyone familiar with our field knows, delivering quality care involves a lot of moving parts. The complexity can obscure our view of the patient. Sometimes we can’t see the tree through the forest.
The accomplished leaders on our panel emphasized the value of sound strategy and, like most of us, they have also made the humbling discovery that "culture eats strategy for lunch." We learn—often the hard way—that instinct and tradition have a way of overriding our best-laid plans. Mindful of those dynamics, each panelist articulated strategies grounded in the wisdom and practices of their respective environments.
Hariprasad Kovelamudi spoke about harnessing the power of kindness at Apollo Hospitals, the multinational healthcare group headquartered in Chennai, India. Staff are schooled in the importance of empathy and the human touch. There are no patient experience specialists—compassion is everyone's responsibility. Before new employees begin working, they spend 30 to 60 days in one of the larger Apollo campuses, immersed in the organization’s culture of kindness.
Dr. Kovelamudi shared a striking finding: As a general rule, a patient needs 29 seconds to feel heard when they are sharing their concerns. On average, however, patients are interrupted 11 seconds after they begin speaking. Just a few extra moments of listening will make a world of difference.
In a spirit of European pragmatism, Idris Guessous emphasized the importance of the provider experience and its central role in meeting patient expectations. Whether directly or indirectly, our employees shape nearly every facet of a patient’s experience; the impact of staff morale is immediate and far-reaching. Job satisfaction and an engaged workforce are vital to a successful patient engagement program.
Alan Dubovsky talked about the value of listening carefully to the voices of patients and their families. He explained how Cedars-Sinai encourages their direct involvement in programs and processes that advance patient-centered care. Through online panels, ongoing surveys and other mechanisms, the organization develops action plans that support the patient experience. Patient data and stories are shared with hospital leadership to underscore the positive impact of the investment in patient satisfaction programs and how those programs enhance compliance, streamline flow and lead to better patient outcomes.
The IHF World Hospital Congress showcased some of the most innovative trends in global healthcare. Perhaps I am biased by my high regard for our panelists, but in my view, taken together, they outlined a culturally integrated and yet consolidated approach to achieving patient-centered care—an approach grounded in kindness and respect for patients, families and staff alike and informed by careful listening and ongoing feedback coupled with meaningful communication with institutional leadership.