Why Should Patient Experience Embrace Copernicus?

Point One. Heliocentric versus geocentric. Heliocentric—the planets revolved around the sun. Geocentric—the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. Copernicus. Early astronomer, pretty smart guy—he got it right.

Point Two. Patient experience. The hospital is the center of the universe and the patients revolve around it. Where is Copernicus when we need him? What about a patient-centric model?

Four out of five hospitals do not have a patient experience strategy. Of those 20 percent that do, most, if not all of them, do not include anything outside of HCAHPS.

There are several fatal flaws with the hospital-centric model of patient experience. Improving HCAHPS scores is not the same thing as improving patient experience. One strategy involves improving a set of numbers, the other involves improving experiences.

Here are the flaws around what most hospitals are doing:

The experiences of outpatients are ignored—surveying them doesn’t count; we already established that with HCAHPS.
The experiences of all prospective patients – the largest group of stakeholders – are ignored. Definition of Prospective Patients—everyone who has ever been to your web site, called the hospital, parked in the garage, eaten in the cafeteria and driven past the billboard advertising the hospital’s urology practice.

The hospital-centric patient experience model requires hospitals to try to apply a fix for every patient experience, patient by patient, day after day. One hospital fixing thousands of patients’ experiences. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. Since the patient is no longer classified as a patient when the fix is applied, whose experience is the hospital attempting to fix?

The patient-centric model of patient experience centers around one patient, one person. It is designed, planned and thought through. A patient, like a customer, should be able to carry the hospital around on their iPad. That person should be able to accomplish everything they need to with the hospital, with the possible exception of a hip replacement, the same way they can accomplish everything they need to with Amazon.

The following graphic shows the lifecycle of someone’s experience with a hospital. The most noteworthy aspect of the graphic is that only the green circle represents a person’s time in the hospital. The blue circles represent all of the other interactions someone has with the hospital.

Patients only spend a small fraction of their time in the hospital. Hospitals only spend a fraction of their time understanding the totality of someone’s experience.

Since most hospitals do not have a working definition of patient experience, I like to use this definition: TQE—the Total Quality of a person’s Encounter with the hospital is equal to the sum of their HCAHPS scores plus all of the nonclinical patient touch points. This definition parallels The Beryl Institute’s definition of the patient experience – the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care. Using these definitions as guides in their own organizations enables healthcare leaders to truly keep the patient at the center of their universe.

A remarkable experience happens for every person, every time, on every device.

3 thoughts on “Why Should Patient Experience Embrace Copernicus?

  1. Paul—

    I’m doing an (unpaid) guest lecture next Monday night (weather permitting: Nashville is shut down right now due to ice everywhere) and am wondering if you would mind if I printed this blog of your’s, including the graphic and gave each of the 12-15 students a copy, crediting you as the author, of course? [long sentence, sorry]

    The students are adults, all working in HC somewhere in the Nashville area, in clinical mgt, IT, and various other capacities. The course is an management overview of the HC industry and is sponsored by HIMMS and conducted by Belmont University. My topic is “Patient Experience” and I plan a provocative exchange of views on the topic.

    Dan Prince
    President | Catalyst Healthcare Research
    615.297.6535 x700 | Mobile: 615.969.9295
    Confident Change


  2. Sorry but I have to disagree with your comment that a hospital based experience has ‘fatal flaws’. Yes, it’s out-of-date, yes, it needs to be more customer-centric, but their introspective model is not ‘fatal’. There are certainly plenty of avoidable deaths in healthcare – many of them are hygiene and safety related. But many more are patient-driven (start with smoking impact on COPD, lung cancer, and then add 100 more).
    In my 15 years of researching the lived experience of patients (in Europe, not USA), I have seen and heard very little articulated need for the iPad Amazon-everywhere model you advocate.
    Instead, things like dignity, compassion, understanding are a higher priority.
    But – I do work in a different geographic market, so it’s possible that things are (very) different in the US. If so, I’d love for you to share the research, but in the meantime, I’ll carry on believing that patients do not define great healthcare outcomes by being able to “carry the hospital around on their iPad.”


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