Delivering health care has always been about more than providing medical services. For more than 30 years—driven in part by changes in Medicare, as well as increased competition for patients—hospitals and healthcare providers have been aggressively developing initiatives meant to increase patient satisfaction and empower patients. These efforts got a huge boost with the advent of the HCAHPS survey in 2002, when hospitals were incentivized to focus on the patient experience and patients were finally able to compare hospitals based on their delivery of patient satisfaction.

Today, from the C-suite down, the patient experience is central to the way hospitals view and interact with patients. Patient experience officers at hospitals work hard to create engaged, personalized patient experiences throughout the care continuum by putting the patients at the center of the healthcare equation. This can mean anything from providing better food to restructuring the way the clinical staff interacts with patients to ensure they understand their conditions and feel empowered to make decisions.

What does this mean for patient education?

According to The Beryl Institute, patient experience is built around a model called the Patient Experience Framework. This model offers eight strategic lenses through which organizations can work to address and improve patient experience:

  • Culture and leadership
  • Policy and measurement
  • Patient, family and community engagement
  • Quality and clinical excellence
  • Staff and provider engagement
  • Infrastructure and governance
  • Innovation and technology
  • Environment and hospitality

Patient education can, and should, play a crucial role in the patient experience. By providing reliable information in a format patients can access and understand, hospital staff is demonstrating in a tangible way that the patient matters, that their comprehension and participation in their own care is core to the hospital’s mission. Patient education needs to be more than an afterthought or a few printed sheets handed to patients as they are discharged. It needs to be truly baked into the care continuum at key points, with mechanisms that allow the patient to demonstrate their understanding of the material as well as ask questions and follow up. It also can’t end when the patient leaves the hospital—long-term support is integral to helping patients successfully manage chronic conditions like heart failure.

So what does the future hold? There’s little doubt that the patient experience movement will continue to grow, both domestically and throughout the world. It’s almost trite to say that we are in the midst of a transformation in healthcare—we’ve been in the midst of a transformation in healthcare for more than a century, long before Alexander Fleming ushered in the age of antibiotics when he noticed that mold from a melon was surprisingly effective in killing bacteria. But the pace of this change, and the nature of this change, is accelerating. Today, we have the means to treat or cure a dizzying array of diseases. The main challenge facing our healthcare system isn’t a lack of ingenuity or treatment options. Instead, it’s figuring out ways to knock down barriers to delivering care, which means addressing the high cost of health care, the disparities in its delivery, and overcoming the fears and anxieties that many patients experience when it comes to making their own healthcare decisions. While there may not be a single answer, putting patients at the center of their own care—by truly empowering them and working hard to create an experience that is supportive and healing for mind, spirit, and body—we are helping to usher in the next transformation in the way people live and thrive.