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Effective and practical approaches for cultivating genuine human connections

The question, “Did everyone treat you as a unique person?” is a powerful indicator of the patient experience in the clinical setting. That’s why it’s at the heart of NRC Health’s Human Understanding Metric (HUme). But true success in healthcare requires more than adding a question to a survey; it requires a culture shift, a full-system adoption of strategies prioritizing human connection and health equity.

Gundersen Health System and M Health Fairview leaders describe how they used the HUme to increase Net Promoter Scores and enact real-world, realistic changes across their health systems during a recent NRC Health webcast. Gundersen Health System and M Health Fairview are among the NRC Health partners who are currently implementing the HUme into their patient-experience surveys.  

Supporting this effort with intentional strategies to engage leaders and teams, these systems are now enjoying unprecedented increases in NPS. After implementing the HUme as part of a field test in January 2022, Gundersen Health System’s NPS increased by three points. M Health Fairview implemented the HUme in December 2022 and saw an NPS increase of four points—among the largest growth seen so far by all the partners using the measure. 

While these results are impressive, they did not magically appear upon the addition of the HUme. Gundersen and M Health Fairview both rallied around the larger idea and importance of person-centered care, creating strategic processes around a Human Understanding movement. While these organizations are very different, they both prioritize intentional effort and alignment, process improvement, and building the infrastructure it takes to bring Human Understanding into the heartbeat of their culture. 

If you are considering implementing the HUme into your patient-experience surveys, here are some top takeaways from Casey Arends, Customer Experience Manager with M Health Fairview, and Shannon Hulett, DNP, RN, CNL, Director of Patient Experience at Gundersen Health System, that might guide your journey.  

Optimize Strategic Timing and Alignment with Service Standards 

Arends emphasizes the strategic timing of implementing the HUme in M Health Fairview’s customer-experience journey. Part of their success was reassessing survey questions and engaging with operations leaders to ensure ownership and actionable insights.  

The organization’s introduction of Human Understanding coincided with their transition from viewing customer experience as a metric to embracing it as a pursuit of passion. It effectively brought a focus on engaging individuals and leaders in the process. Arends says the concept of Human Understanding does an awesome job of bringing engagement and passion to the forefront. 

“It was perfect timing, because people could see themselves in that question and understand it was actionable,” says Arends. “It also helped encapsulate a lot of what patients thought was important in one single question.” 

Gundersen was initially part of a field test, selected partly because of their history of innovation being a big part of their mission, along with their longstanding practice of providing personalized care. The HUme question came forward, and their field test coincided with their strategic-plan pillar of “people first,” emphasizing the organization’s focus on human-centric care and innovation. 

“As we brought that forward and talked about prioritizing individuality and belonging as a fundamental human need, we did it in tactics related to what we dug into with storytelling,” Hulett explains. “There’s been a variety of different change-management and communication activities since then, just to continue to deepen it and bring it to other people.”

Use a Phased Approach for Actionable Insights 

For M Health Fairview, the focus was on making Human Understanding a question within the control of every individual, ensuring its impact on daily interactions. The goal was to move from traditional questions about access to more actionable and engaging ones, allowing teams to impact the customer experience daily.

“As an example, instead of asking about access for a bunch of frontline caregivers, asking about Human Understanding is much more actionable,” Arends says. 

This phased approach and ongoing deployment were important, but so was transitioning the idea of customer service as a metric to a pursuit of passion. Leaders agree that the need to formalize the process is important.  

Hulett also highlights the importance of educating teams on Human Understanding and connecting it with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. For Gundersen’s leaders, the emphasis was on tightening human connection awareness, and they worked on a system-wide DEI strategic roadmap to strengthen that. 

“We came together and provided recommendations for that journey, centering on tightening human connection awareness,” Hulett says. “And I would say that was one of the first major splashes to a variety of people, where we started digging into this topic of Human Understanding and tied the metrics to that work and our patient strategy.” 

Plan for Ongoing Deployment and Storytelling for Engagement 

Arends acknowledges that understanding and implementation are an ongoing process. Deployment involves emphasizing the principles of service standards through storytelling from the patient’s perspective. The goal is to make that perspective a commonly used mental framework, with resources and best practices provided to help teams take action and improve Human Understanding. 

“Human Understanding is a powerful tool, and I think it was a natural way for leaders and team members to understand what the service standards meant,” Arends says. “So those folks add the question, get the results, and then see an ‘if/then’ set of resources to help them pick something they feel they can take action on to drive Human Understanding.” 

Want to learn more? Check out our webcast on-demand or read the NRC Health case study, “How Two Leading Health Systems Leverage Human Understanding to Increase Net Promoter Scores.”