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Patient experience or human experience?

Some in the healthcare industry think the patient experience should now be called a human experience.  But I'm not so sure.

All of us are humans before we are patients. So does that make the patient experience a human experience?

Yes and no.

All Patient Experiences are Human Experiences

Some human experiences aren't patient experiences. But all patient experiences are human experiences. They are what happens to us when we are getting treatments or undergoing procedures in healthcare settings.

How about if we just call it a "healthcare experience?" Or the "human experience of healthcare?"

If we did that, we could include families in the discussion. Maybe even staff members.

Let's Commit to the Human Experience in Healthcare

But the real point is to understand that our shared humanity is at the core of every good patient experience. Last year, The Beryl Institute declared its "unwavering commitment to the human experience in healthcare."

This, from Jason Wolf, Beryl's President:

"In an environment where we clearly base all work on human beings caring for human beings we are ultimately addressing and impacting the human experience in our midst. For this reason, we believe at The Beryl Institute as we remain committed to [the] patient experience we must address the reality of the human experience that is central to healthcare overall."

Well said, Jason.

Designing With Empathy

So how can you design for the human experience? Or to create a better human experience?

I think it begins with empathy. Asking the right questions and being curious.

  1. What matters to healthcare consumers?
  2. What do they want?
  3. Why should they trust you (the healthcare provider)?
  4. How can the design of the physical environment communicate these things?

And clearly, not all the same things matter to all healthcare consumers. And they don't all want the same things.

But I bet once you start asking these questions, you'll find some commonalities that can help inform your design concepts.

More On This

If you're attending the Healthcare Design conference in Phoenix this year, join Sarah Bader and I on Sunday, November 11 for an interactive roundtable discussion titled "Patient Experience:  The 'X' Factor of Design."

This video is a great example of a human healthcare experience:

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Leave a comment

Mark L VanderKlipp

6 years ago

I do believe it's important to call it the "healthcare experience" rather than just patient experience, since it encompasses all humans that are part of the whole: providers, staff, support staff, ancillary services (e.g. pharmacies) families and the patients. All of this relies on human-centered design thinking to optimize. The mantra "nothing about me without me" means that all parties should be included in the design discussions. Great post, Sara!


6 years ago

Similar to Mark’s comment above, I also like “healthcare experience” because often it involves caretakers and loved ones in addition to the patient. Great, thought provoking post Sara.


5 years ago

Hi Sara, the part where you say "maybe even staff members" is a hot issue for me. The patient experience as the human experience has been talked about but never is there attention paid to the healthcare provider as human part of this equation. I wonder if you or someone you know speaks to the patient experience as related to the staff experience (satisfaction, self-care, job demands, engagement). I know that the IHI has initiated the "Joy In Work" campaign which is great, but any others you can think of? Much appreciated.

Sara Marberry

5 years ago

I think every healthcare organization is pretty much thinking about the staff experience, too. They have to -- because of impending workforce shortages and the prevalence of burnout in the industry. Is there a specific person speaking about this? I don't really know.

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What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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