Academic journal article Creative Nursing

Why Experience Matters: Moving from Words to Action

Academic journal article Creative Nursing

Why Experience Matters: Moving from Words to Action

Article excerpt

This article explores the nature of patient experience from the perspective of the language we use at a systemic level, discussing the range of terminology that has an impact on how we involve the voices of patients and families in health care today. The author explores the recent evolution in the language of patient experience, acknowledging the diversity of perspective while offering that there is an opportunity for alignment, and presents a model for integrating the constructs that frame excellence in patient experience. The author leaves us with a challenge: to continue the conversation and to find opportunities to elevate the impact of patient experience overall.

Keywords: patient experience; patient centeredness; patient engagement; language; defining patient experience

I am honored to be guest editor of this first issue kicking off Creative Nursing's 2015 theme, "From Experience to Empowerment." I believe we have an important conversation to lead as we explore the power of all voices engaged in our health care work. This year's theme aims to expand our perspectives on the issue of experience, engaging the insights and ideas of many across care roles and points on the care continuum.

This richness of perspectives, and the diversity it brings to the issue of the critical nature of experience, is fundamental. At the same time, it represents what I have come to see as the complex and constrained nature of health care. Now, beyond competing for scarce resources (space, time, and people), we have begun to dance with the issue of words.

In the thoughts that follow, I hope to explore the nature of health care from the perspective of the language we use at a systemic level, focusing on the central themes of experience and empowerment, and exploring other words, from engagement to activation to centeredness, that have an impact on how we involve the voices of patients and families.


Research supports the critical nature of language in the clinical setting, specifically related to nursing, as both a driver of safety (Leonard, Graham, & Bonacum, 2004) and a potential source of commonality in meaning (Allen, Chapman, O'Connor, & Francis, 2007). Acknowledging and addressing the importance of language must be central to the conversation about patient and family experience as well. We must recognize that language does matter not just in what we do but also in how we talk about it. Finding the right language is key in ensuring the best outcomes in what we aspire to achieve, and in creating common meaning for what we wish to convey and to help others understand.

With this premise, I see the variation of language in use as an opportunity to explore. There is power in the diversity of perspectives by which we examine a topic, yet there is also a critical opportunity for alignment, to capitalize on the power that common language affords. Thus, there is an opportunity to move beyond competing language frameworks in examining such concepts as patient (resident, and family) engagement, activation, centeredness, and empowerment.

In essence, these are but words, but words matter, especially in a health care system drowning in terminology and clouding the waters for those in its midst- the patients, families, and communities served. Language in health care has often taken an insider approach-whether to reinforce the knowledge base of health care or even, as shared by Allen et al. (2007), to create a level of elitism around knowledge, understanding, or practice. This supports a critical point: Accessibility-not physical accessibility but rather accessibility to comprehensible language-should be central to a health care environment cognizant of and working to inform and involve the voices of patients and families. Randi Redmond Oster's article in this journal issue reinforces this point from the family perspective with power and clarity.

Choosing certain words sets a tone for being listened to by some and potentially dismissed by others. …

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