This morning I had the good fortune to be in Sydney at a breakfast held by our partner, KPMG, discussing what it is to create an ‘extraordinary patient experience’. Of course this is our bread and butter and the type of discourse that fills the table at lunchtime in Cemplicity HQ. Today was just that little bit different though, as we had the real privilege to listen to someone who knows all about patient centred healthcare and the patience it sometimes takes being a patient.

In 2012, Matthew Ames woke up one morning with a sore throat. He was a regular guy, working for Origin Energy, with a loving wife and 4 children. His sore throat developed into streptococcal and quite quickly to toxic shock. His wife was in the awful position of having to make the decision on whether or not to amputate both arms and legs to save Matthew’s life. She did so and despite all odds (he was given a 1% chance of surviving) he pulled through.

Since 2012 Matthew has had numerous surgeries and rehabilitation crossing many different parts of the health system and is in a unique position to tell us what it is that sets a good patient experience apart from the bad. His first anecdote was touching – he could only just get vertical without passing out and had been one of very few people who had been passed from Intensive Care (55 days) straight out to rehab. In rehab a doctor asked him if there was anything he could do for him – he said that it was his son’s birthday in a week and he would love to go home to be there for the party. All the staff started looking at their feet, shuffling around and looking nervous, but one doctor looked him straight in the eye and said, words to the effect of, ‘I am unsure if we can make that happen, but we will do everything in our power to try and succeed’. Nevertheless a week later, vehicles, makeshift wheelchairs, medication to keep him conscious were in place and he made it to the birthday party. Tears in his eyes, 6 years later, Matthew said it was all worth it just to see the look on his little boys face. Tears all round to be perfectly honest (I suggested he leaves tissues on the chairs in future).

You can read more about Matthew’s amazing story here.

The salient points of his story for me were that great communication, co-ordination of care and a personalised approach to healthcare that has the patient at the centre all lead towards a great patient experience. (He told me afterward he got so frustrated with having to repeat his unusual circumstance and co-ordinate his own path that he had set up his own project management system to share across the care team that sent notifications to the required people when they needed to engage!). This was of no great surprise to me – precisely the same measures always feature at the top of the charts in our global studies in both private and public contexts. Really, it’s simple customer experience. We are quick to forgive if we know people have done their best and communicated the whole way through the process.

The conversation amongst the panel members had some great examples of staff going out of their way to be helpful and they were often well removed from the clinician – the security, the cleaners, the administrators. As was discussed, no-one wakes up thinking – thank god, it’s Thursday, it’s my colonoscopy! We expect that clinically things will be okay – it’s so often the associated human experiences that surround the clinical experience that impacts on how a patient views their whole interaction with the service.

I see Matthew’s story as an individual view of what we’re trying to help with at a large group level. We have the tools to start listening and when clients believe we can quite simply start the journey towards patient centered healthcare. Start slowly perhaps, but put the tools into play, collect the stories, start understanding your patients at group level. There’ll be great surprises that I hear consistently from clients who take this first step. Often the immediate changes are incredibly simple. Once you start listening, you can start transforming.

Our drive at Cemplicity is to give every patient the opportunity to share their experience and for staff who hear and listen to those stories to feel able to act to make that one person’s experience as good as it can possibly be. It’s a combination of responding where necessary and doing so quickly. Ultimately, putting the tools into the hands of the frontline staff is very effective for a bottom up strategy and we’re currently working on a number of programs that integrate a PROMS style approach with an outcome component which is an exciting development coming out of the CEM R&D lab.

There’s a utopia of some sort here – a place that exists where outcomes and experience cross over perfectly. Where we ask a patient their desires and then push towards that with them throughout the whole process. There will be no surprises but through knowing what the individual patient values we might decide not to operate. We might decide to use the $20,000 prosthetic not the $50,000 one. We might decide to arrange a car for a new patient who has had both arms and legs amputated – even though it’s not in our job description. Pushing towards the outcome will make for a great experience. That great experience will come full circle from patients to staff. Ultimately we’re also talking about a value proposition here where we can save money in the health system. Even the finance teams will be happy. A virtuous circle. I’m voting for that.

Matthew, it was an absolute pleasure to listen and talk to you today. You’re an amazing man, with an amazing wife and a wonderful family. You’re right, that’s exactly the outcome we all want. I promise never, ever to complain about the mundane again. It’s an absolute privilege to be alive and you’re a tremendous inspiration.