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Collaborating for better care: The power of co-designing the patient experience


In her latest article, Rachel Williams – Founder of The Experience Corporation – explores the major benefits of co-designing the patient experience and why patient opinions are so important.

23rd Aug 2023

In recent years, there has been a spotlight on the customer experience being delivered by healthcare organisations. This includes the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and private sector providers such as Bupa.

A number of these companies are making attempts to improve the overall patient experience. This is often a complex effort with many factors having to be considered, such as budgets, staffing resources and the overall pressures on the service provider. 

One of the more innovative ways to improve the patient experience is by including the opinions and feedback of service users and their families – or co-designing the experience.

What is co-designing the patient experience?

Co-designing the patient experience involves gathering the opinions, thoughts and suggestions of patients and their families. This information is then used in collaboration with healthcare professionals and leaders to design facilities, services and the overall patient experience.

Patient and family views can be gathered in a number of ways, including surveys sent to service users following a hospital stay, focus groups consisting of family members, and suggestion boxes on hospital wards.

The official term for this innovative approach is called ‘Experience Based Co-Design’ (EBCD).

The King’s Fund explains that this approach encompasses the following four main elements: 

  1. A focus on designing experiences and not just improving performance.
  2. Putting patient experiences at the heart of service improvement without forgetting the staff.
  3. Staff and patients complete the design together.
  4. Improving the day-to-day experiences of giving and receiving care. 

The benefits of co-designing the patient experience

There are several major benefits of designing patient experiences in this way. Firstly, service users are given a voice and feel their opinions are being ‘heard.’ This is particularly useful for patients and families who experience long hospital stays or frequent visits to their healthcare professionals.

Secondly, the approach enables healthcare organisations to have new ideas to consider, which can improve their level of service delivery.

Finally, staff members get to understand and evaluate the real opinions of their patients which empowers them to make positive changes.

Now let’s look at some real-life examples of this approach being put into action.

The Nuka System of Care

The Nuka System of Care embodies a patient-centric approach which was established by the esteemed Southcentral Foundation – an expansive healthcare system based in Alaska.

This remarkable organisation actively involves and incorporates the valuable insights and needs of the Alaskan population when constructing its services.

Southcentral Foundation gathers patient feedback through locally based advisory groups, surveys, focus groups and hotlines. The method has resulted in huge improvements in accessing general care from a Doctor (primary care), with 94% customer satisfaction and improvements in clinical outcomes.

Patient-centric approaches have resulted in a 94% customer satisfaction level and improvements in clinical outcomes. 

The methodology has aided major improvements in the population health of its users. Additionally, the Nuka System of Care is regarded internationally as a pioneer in exceptional patient experiences.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust has used the EBCD approach to embed the opinions of families and patients into their decisions around service delivery. Initially, the approach was tested on hip and knee replacement patients as they were experiencing a negative patient experience.

The thoughts and opinions of service users within this department were gathered with the aim of improving processes, communication and the overall patient experience. After making changes based on customer feedback, the department improved relations with patients as staff began offering more reassurance and support. 

As the approach was successful, EBCD has now been rolled out across the healthcare system. ‘Patient Driven’ is the mantra of the service, with the opinions of service users being collected and acted upon on a regular basis.

The importance of involving patients

Patients and families have a unique vantage point and can offer useful and insightful opinions to help healthcare organisations understand their service levels. Senior leaders, managers and frontline staff can all benefit from understanding these opinions so they can bring about positive change.

Based on my research, here are three ways in which healthcare organisations can gather and implement patient and family opinions effectively: 

  1. Embrace technology: opinions and views from patients can be gathered quickly using technology such as computer tablets on wards to conduct questionaries, feedback stations in reception areas and analytical tech to understand data gleaned from patient surveys. 
  2. Start small: healthcare systems are usually huge organisations with thousands of staff and patients to care for. A way to begin with EBCD is to start a pilot project on one hospital ward. Once this has seen positive results, the approach used can be rolled out in stages. 
  3. Executive sponsorship: having a senior leader sponsor an EBCD initiative will help to popularise the approach and will provide support such as funding for projects. 

In my opinion, gathering understanding and implementing patient feedback is the way forward for healthcare providers. I am a stringent advocate for this approach, as I strongly believe that customer opinions offer a great level of insight for managers and senior leaders.

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