Adolescent Patient Experience: Methods and Tools
We’ve decided to feature a particular and often overlooked demographic in healthcare: adolescents. In this three-part blog series, we discuss barriers and ways to measure adolescent patient experience, gather adolescent perspectives on their healthcare, and provide methods and tools to support adolescent patients in the hospital. Be sure to check out the first post of this series to learn about how you can measure quality healthcare for adolescents and the second post to read about patient perspectives.
As the last post of our blog series, it’s time to bring everything together and discuss the practicals. In this blog, we’ll discuss different methods and tools you can use to improve adolescent patient experience in your practice or hospital. Regardless of where you work in a patient’s healthcare journey, you have the opportunity to apply these practicals to improve the patient experience.
You can’t impact patient experience if your patients don’t show up to their appointment! That’s where a reminder system comes in. Teen patients are already frequently using their mobile devices, so even if they forget about the appointment, they’ll receive notification reminders. Paper reminders can often go unopened or opened too late, but mobile reminders are nearly guaranteed to be seen, and seen quickly. The same online systems can also be used for updating patients on the current wait time or rescheduling appointments, giving them more time, control, and flexibility.
The best way to improve patient experience for the waiting area is to minimize the time spent in the waiting area. This can be done by properly spacing appointments, updating patients if the current waiting time is different from expected, and keeping patients active if the waiting time can’t be changed. One option is to provide surveys that patients would already have to fill out while waiting or have handouts available on topics teens commonly request like mental health, body image, sexual information, college, and nutrition.
Typically when an interactive element is added to the waiting area, it’s usually oriented at children. The frequent assumption is that adolescents can entertain themselves using their phones or that they are old enough to simply wait, but that doesn’t mean the experience can’t be improved. Adding games and interactive elements that specifically target adolescents before procedures that have longer wait times can provide peace of mind for both the patients and their parents. This can be done using tools like multiplayer consoles and interactive augmented reality experiences.
One of the simplest things a staff member can do is to ask parents or caregivers to leave the room when discussing sexual health, drug use, and more personal questions. This won’t necessarily lead patients to be more honest, but it gives them more freedom, lets them know they’re being listened to, and fulfils their desire for autonomy. This can build rapport and trust and help lead to honesty down the road.
This is a often a complicated situation for adolescents as most of them feel like they are too old for the pediatric ward, but don’t like being placed in the adult ward either. One teenage patient in the pediatric ward said that most tools are for kids and the nurses treated them like children; however, in the adult ward, the wide age range made it hard for them to enjoy themselves. In an ideal scenario, adolescents would have their own ward, but since that’s often not feasible, housing them in the adult ward while grouping them with patients of similar ages is the best strategy. Another thing to consider is that not all nurses and doctors in the adult ward know how to properly interact with adolescents, so having designated staff for adolescent patients can greatly improve their morale and make them feel more understood.
One of the most important factors for adolescents in the hospital are the ability to interact with peers. In one study, 58% of subjects never or rarely had the opportunity to make new friends or take part in social activities, and since this is such an important factor in adolescent patient satisfaction, this can lead to mental health issues during the hospital stay. Patients also want to maintain a sense of normalcy by doing similar activities that they could do at home. The most common leisure activities outside of the hospital are playing video games, practicing sports, or watching TV. Some patients can’t participate in said activities because of their medical conditions, but those who can don’t always have access to the technology or space needed. One common complaint is that hospitals don’t have a multimedia area separate from the children’s playroom, and if adolescent patients are already in the children’s ward, they don’t have a place to escape. Creating a separate teen area equipped with video games, TVs, and other games and technology for socialization and hanging out can greatly improve the patient experience.
Teen Advisory Councils
Nurses and doctors usually talk to their adolescent patients with their parents present, and in some cases, address the parents instead of the patients. This leads to conversations that don’t give patients a full voice in their care and can affect hospital policies and improvements. One hospital decided to create a Teen Advisory Council to combat some of those issues. They wanted to provide inpatient teens with their own voices that weren’t influenced by their parents. They also wanted the group to be as diverse as possible, gathering from different experiences, time frames, units, and illness groups.
This council has led to teen-only hospital events like video game tournaments, changes in the menu, improvements on the information provided to the patients, and that’s just the start.
“With teens, we know the reality of being in the hospital, and sometimes it’s harder to keep that upbeat about it. Younger children know they’re sick, but there’s child life people dressed up as superheroes and the princesses to help them forget. For teens, it’s about finding things that cater to us to make us feel better and help us pass the time in the hospital that aren't’ so ‘kiddy.’” -Teen Advisory Council Member
Each hospital and practice is different, reaching unique patient demographics. The best way to start improving adolescent patient experience is to listen to the patient. These teen council groups are a great starting point to hear directly from them, and armed with their valuable feedback, implementation of changes and new policies can begin.