Recognising the true value of patient experience is vital for successful studies and future research engagement.

The definition of ‘patient experience’

The term 'patient experience' encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the healthcare system. The Beryl Institute’s current definition for patient experience is “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organisation’s culture, that influence patient perceptions, across the continuum of care”. Essentially, ‘patient experience’ is what the process of receiving care feels like for the patient, their family and carers. For example, the way a phone is answered, how a GP examines them, or how a nurse might explain what is happening. In the UK, the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement recently described patient experience as: ‘if safe care and clinical excellence are the ‘what’ of healthcare, then experience is the ‘how’’.

Patient experience is a key component of healthcare quality and includes several aspects of healthcare delivery that patients value highly when they seek and receive care - such as getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with healthcare providers. Overall, listening to patients and designing processes to meet their needs results in an environment where patients feel cared for and supported; and that’s what creates a positive patient experience.

Measuring patient experience in practice

Understanding patient experience is a key step in moving toward patient-centred care and research. By evaluating each interaction between a healthcare provider and patients, improvements can be made in the safety of care and overall patient experience. Getting feedback from service users wherever possible is vital to understanding their needs, how to support them better, and ways to improve how they feel about the interactions they have.

There are many ways to collect patient feedback to understand their experience. A few examples are as follows:

  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Patient participation groups, patient panels and service user groups
  • Focus groups and one-to-one interviews
  • Patient stories
  • Patient Experience Trackers (PETs)

The National Health Service in the UK (NHS), released a public document in October 2011 disclosing the framework it uses to measure patient experience. The framework outlines key elements which are critical to the patient experience as a whole, including respect for patient-centred values, preferences and expressed issues like cultural issues, dignity and privacy, as well as elements like physical comfort and emotional support.

Why is patient experience important?

Patient experience has been shown to affect all aspects of care and research, from cost and reputation to patient engagement and satisfaction. According to NHS England it is one of three key components of quality, along with safety and effectiveness. Improving experience has an obvious benefit to patients, but some of the other less apparent advantages are as follows:

Better patient experience = Better health outcomes

Research has shown a link between patient experience and health outcomes. Those who have a better experience of care generally also have better health outcomes overall.

A better staff experience

The relationship between staff and patients feels the strain when patients are having a poor experience. In cases where patients are feeling confident that their experience is good, it has a positive impact on staff experience too.

Lower cost of care

Poor experiences generally lead to higher costs as patients may have poorer outcomes, require longer stays, or need to be admitted for further treatment.

A golden reputation

Patient experience has a significant influence on an organisation's reputation. If patients have a poor experience, it can seriously damage an organisations reputation.

Now is the age of renewed attention to quality, and patient experience is an important component for healthcare to be effective in improving lives, as well as for research engagement and participation. Measuring patient experience and assessing person-centred care is a key step towards ensuring accountability and improving overall quality of care.

How to improve patient experience

Improving patient experience is not always simple, particularly for large-scale organisations with multiple points of contact. However, with a receptive culture and a concrete approach to collecting, analysing, using and learning from patient feedback, it can be done.

Every interaction between a patient and an organisation should be evaluated. Understanding what is important to the patient, and viewing the interaction through their eyes, is vital to determining what can be improved. The best way to understand the current patient experience within an organisation is to get direct feedback from the patients themselves, using the methods listed earlier in this article.

There are also proven methods for improving patient experience in general. For example involving patients in shared decision-making regarding their treatment and empowering them with appropriate information and education. This goes hand-in-hand with respecting patient-centred values, which should always be kept in mind. In addition to this, managing expectations is key to relieving anxiety as well as how patients respond to day-to-day things like waiting times.


Patient experience has always been a key aspect of care, though there has been a big shift in focus towards it in recent years. Improving the experience patients have, from when a receptionist answers the phone, through to treatment and discharge, all impacts how someone feels about the care they've been provided with. In turn, this can affect treatment success, staff experience and even reduce the cost to a healthcare provider or organisation.

Providing a high-quality patient experience is vital to ensuring success, whether that be in a healthcare setting or clinical trial. Improving it isn't simple but, with clear communication and person-centred care, it can have a huge impact on patients and healthcare providers alike.

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