Many experts argue that hospitals should invest in patient experience (PX) simply because it matters to patients and families. “If there’s one silver bullet to improve healthcare, it’s human connection,” says Swati Mehta, MD, Director of Quality and Patient Experience at Vituity.
Human connection also plays an important role in clinical care. Heart attack patients who report positive hospital experiences show better outcomes one year later. And patients are more compliant with treatment and follow-up when they believe their providers are good communicators.
To help clinicians connect with patients, Dr. Mehta teaches the 6H model. The 6H model covers six key skills that clinicians can hardwire into patient interactions to help build rapport and trust:
Many healthcare leaders have realized that patient-first care is now inseparable from provider-first care. “If we take care of our clinicians, our RNs, our CNAs, our EVS staff, our registration folks—they will naturally take good care of patients,” Dr. Mehta says. “If your cup is full, you will pour, because we’re all in healthcare to help others.”
Studer urges healthcare leaders to lighten clinicians’ loads. “Over the last couple of years, we kept putting things on people’s plates,” he says. “In the good of times it sort of works. But right now, we’ve got to look at what we can take off the plate.”
Studer recommends simplifying and streamlining team members’ duties. Introducing new initiatives, like a new PX program, needs to come in that context. He says the key is to narrow the scope of change and stairstep it so that people always feel successful.
“One way to do this is through flexible frameworks. That’s why I like AIDET and Swati’s 6H model,” he added. “They give people options. Clinicians can put the steps in their own words, so they don’t come off too scripted and lose their authenticity.”
In addition to the 6H framework, Dr. Mehta leads an annual PX collaborative that creates a peer learning opportunity for teams across different regions and health systems. The four-month program involves practice sites across several specialties. Learning is interdisciplinary, with medical, nursing, and administrative leaders working together.
Deanna Gunter, MA, BS, RD, Director of Patient Experience at Dignity Health Mercy Redding Medical Center, participated in a recent Vituity PX collaborative. She says that the training helped move her team away from scripting during their patient experience rounds. “Go in and get to know the patients,” she now tells her teams.
One of Mercy Redding’s initiatives was to use whiteboards to share personal facts that are meaningful to the patient. “It almost allows the patient to heal,” Gunter says. “They’re not so worried about, ‘I have this diagnosis.’ But [it becomes], ‘This is really who I am. I’m the person who loved to play football in high school.’”
For Dr. Mehta, human connection isn’t a soft skill. In an age of disconnection, polarization, and incivility, it’s a core competency. “Every team, every clinician, every nurse needs to feel nurtured,” she says. “And that’s what I want: compassion in healthcare to come back.”