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Leaders Perspective: PROVE IT! Establishing Evidence-Based Experience and Communication

Monday, April 15, 2019
Laura Cooley, PhD, Senior Director of Education and Outreach, The Academy of Communication in Healthcare, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Patient Experience.
“The surveys are flawed - the sample size is too small. Communicating effectively takes too much time. My patients mostly care about my clinical expertise...”

Despite growing interest in the realm of patient experience, clinicians and healthcare leaders continue to refute the validity and impact of patient experience. In response, we must strengthen our ability to PROVE IT!

How can we best demonstrate the value of patient experience? How can we translate survey results to reflect to outcomes that truly matter to patients, to clinicians, and to leaders? How does communication impact clinical outcomes?

Research findings strongly support the link between communication, patient experiences of care, and quality metrics. Clinicians and executive level leaders respond most favorably when they understand the evidence that substantiates any claim. We must speak the language of our audience by translating the message into terms they value and recognize. For example, when presenting to any new audience, I reference validated academic outcomes to show that effective communication is linked to higher patient experience scores, increased empathy scores, reduced costs for diagnostic testing, lower readmission rates, improved retention of patients in outpatient settings, lower risk of litigation and malpractice claims, increased clinician satisfaction, and decreased clinician burnout. The importance of communication has been validated as a significant factor impacting patient health outcomes. For example, clinician-patient relationships are linked to better management of chronic diseases (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, and HIV), enhanced outcomes across cancer patients, improved pain control, improved post-surgical outcomes, reduced risk of coronary heart disease and decreased mortality from myocardial infarction, and reduced hospital readmissions.1 Embedding citations and specific research examples into presentations, materials, and regular conversations will increase the credibility of our work in patient experience while deepening awareness and buy-in among colleagues and leaders.


Patient experience leaders can increasingly reference findings that show how clinicians with more effective communication skills achieve personal benefits that reduce suffering for clinicians, not just patients. We all have challenges in our daily practices (difficult conversations, dissatisfied patients, conflict among team members) that leave us feeling unsettled and dissatisfied. Learning to communicate more effectively helps us avoid preventable errors, make more accurate diagnoses and enhance adherence to treatment, and it also helps us increase our own well-being and resilience.


While many may easily recognize the link between patient experience and communication, we must also build a case for the value of investing in deliberate skill development. Contrary to common belief, communication is not just an innate talent. Communication is a procedural skill-set that clinicians can learn, practice, and improve upon. Data on communication skills training sessions show that effective programs typically last for the equivalent of a one-day period, focus on application of learnings to clinical practice and tailor to the learners’ goals and needs. Skills-based exercises, including role-play, in small groups or in individualized coaching are more effective than isolated didactic presentations; specific feedback on communication skills is the most important element that contributes to heightened patient experiences of care and reduced risk of harm.2 The vast majority of clinicians who engage in this style of communication training report the sessions as helpful to their everyday practices and suggest that the training also inspires a renewed dedication and energy to their careers.


As patient experience professionals we believe that improvement efforts, such as communication skills training, will transform healthcare experiences for patients, families, and clinicians. Obtaining knowledge regarding the case for patient experience and communication is necessary, yet insufficient. We must advance beyond obtaining knowledge and instead focus on strategically delivering the message so that we can actually PROVE IT.


Attending the Patient Experience Summit 2019: Empathy and Innovation? Join me on Tuesday, May 14 @ 10:45am for a session on Academic Perspectives and Publishing Outcomes in Patient Experience!  Twitter @LauraCooleyPhD and LinkedIn
1 The Academy of Communication in Healthcare (ACH) provides an in-depth summary of evidence to support the value of communication skill development among clinicians. See Chou, C.L., Cooley, L., (Eds.). (Oct 2017). Communication Rx: Transforming Healthcare Through Relationship-Centered Communication. New York, NY: McGraw Hill. **Visit for free access to Chapter One “Building the Case for Communication and Relationships”

2 Berkhof, M., van Rijssen, H.J., Schellart, A.J.M., Anema, J.R., and van der Beek, A.J. “Effective Training Strategies for Teaching Communication Skills to Physicians: An Overview of Systematic Reviews.” Patient Education and Counseling 84 (2011): 152–162.

Tags: communication, quality improvement, education, perspective, patient satisfaction
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