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'First impressions affect perceptions of care'


If you’ve ever walked into a shop and walked straight out because it doesn’t look like the kind of place that would have what you were looking for, or U-turned in restaurants because they appear too run-down to serve food safely, you know first impressions count.

But how many clinicians and NHS managers actually think about patients’ first impressions of healthcare environments?

Of course, we have the choice of where to shop, eat and stay, whereas many patients don’t have a choice of where they are cared for in quite the same way, but the principles of the importance of first impressions still ring true.

The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement has just launched The 15 Steps Challenge for mental health wards, after launching it for acute wards earlier this year.

The programme was launched after the institute’s focus group on Productive Ward heard from one mother, who said that she could tell what kind of care her daughter was going to receive within 15 steps of walking onto a ward.

Of course she could. It’s vital that patients (and relatives and carers) feel confident in their healthcare. If they enter a chaotic, messy, busy environment, or they aren’t greeted by a welcoming reception - what faith will they have in the care given to patients?

The 15 Steps Challenge asks staff to visit wards and make observations on what they see, smell, hear and feel. The associated toolkit recommends they look out for certain things, some of which are tangible, such as information about what the uniforms mean, cleanliness and safety concerns, along with certain behaviours.

The observers then give rapid feedback to the team about the positive things they have seen as well as their recommendations.

On a busy ward it can be difficult to look objectively at how it appears to patients and relatives. You only need to look at the raft of television shows from experts telling people how to sell their homes, run their restaurants or boost occupancy at their hotels to know that a new pair of eyes can be valuable.

Certain trusts have leapt at this programme - finding it a relatively inexpensive way to really analyse care - and then improve it.

When so many nurses are frustrated by being given so little to work with, this is something that can be done at relatively little cost, and yet make a big difference.

The toolkit is available free of charge to NHS organisations in England and can be accessed here. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Chat live with the editor and other nurses on Twitter every Wednesday at 1pm at #NTtwitchat


Readers' comments (8)

  • Surely improving the "perception" of care is far cheaper than improving actual care.

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  • Jenni
    Take it you have never worked on a urology ward then....

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  • Also, selling homes, running restaurants and getting more people into their hotels, well, these are poor analogies. People do not chose which hospital they use because of the colour of the paint on the walls, THEY USE THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE SICK, its crap like this that sees hospitals waste hundreds of thousands on fancy enterances and renting potted plants or buying over-rated works of art. You are not on an all-inclusive holiday, you are in hospital!

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  • Tinkerbell

    redpaddys12 | 12-Oct-2012 4:04 am

    sorry but what are enterances?

    Exits they're on the way out aren't they?

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  • Tinkerbell
    got me there, perhaps should have said foyers!

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  • Tinkerbell

    redpaddys12 | 13-Oct-2012 5:20 am

    yes sorry to be a 'pendant' (that usually gets the pedants up in arms).

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  • Well most nurses can tell what kind of relative someone is going to be in 10 steps.
    Most of us have experienced the kind of relative who insists on extra attention for their relative. What they don't realise is that it comes at the expense of everybody else

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  • Adopting the extreme example to win an argument is always weak. Of course resources should go into care first and foremost but never underestimate the impact a dishevelled environment (and staff) can have on a patient's confidence. I don't think we need a 'hotel' environment but cluttered untidy wards give an immediate impression of disorganisation. Patients and carers have little time to form a good opinion, so why not start as you mean to go on. I for one hate working amongst other people's clutter and tired of tripping over stuff that's better stored elsewhere.

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