Five Hospital Leaders Reveal their Secrets to Better Patient Experience

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media , February 22, 2010

Young says they expect uncompensated care numbers to continue to increase by 6%-7% annually over the next few years. However, she adds that St. Joseph's is blessed with strong financial performance which has continued to allow them to concentrate on patient experience, safety and quality.

However, while they maintained financial stability, their patient referral rating was in the 60%-70% range. "We're really focusing on the human side of things and customizing the patients experience based on exactly what they need," she says.

Young explains that as part of their effort to improve the patient experience each member of their team is encouraged to use their own unique personality along with their medical skill set to help improve the patient's overall experience – be that their attention to detail or their sense of humor. "We wanted to create a culture where our associates are proud to work here and we're proud to have them," she says. It took four years to change the culture at St. Joseph's, but the culture change is paying off in employee and patient satisfaction, their patient referral scores are now consistently in the mid-80% range.

Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, MI
Nancy Schlichting, CEO

In another recession-battered auto manufacturing city, record high unemployment has brought to hospitals new throngs of charity care cases.

"Quality, service and performance are the drivers for us and our people make that possible for us," says Schlichting.

Nonprofit Henry Ford admits 93,000 patients annually, recording $3.7 billion in revenues in 2008 and $8.5 million in net income that same year; all while providing more than $160 million in uncompensated medical care. Moreover, they can add to their list of accomplishments a 2008 National Health System Patient Safety Leadership Award.

"Patient experience starts with every interaction with the patient or family. It's understanding how to improve process for the patient and that extends to helping patients navigate through the complex continuum of care," adds Schlichting.

Schlichting explains that a patient may encounter up to 50 different hospital employees daily and coordinating the effort so the patient's experience is consistently positive and error-free is a tireless and challenging goal regardless of the patient's ability to pay.

She further clarifies that they have seven pillars of performance at Henry Ford, and the first is "people." That means taking care, not only of the patients, but of the employees by ensuring they have the resources they need to do their jobs well. That extends to making sure that the whole team has access to Schlichting if they need help resolving a problem. "Everyone knows my email address and they can contact me at any time if they're not getting their problems resolved. I respond to every single email. This creates a culture of openness and responsibility," she says.

Helping to keep the team at Henry Ford empowered to help others, creates a positive energy that trickles out to the patients encouraging a stellar customer experience.

As uncompensated care continues to rise, healthcare leaders need to look for unique ways to offset the financial losses that come from these circumstances. In the case of these five hospitals, by opting to pursue an improved patient experience they found that their facilities not only improved for the patients that could afford to pay for their services, but they also made providing charity care less of a financial drain on their facilities.

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Karen Minich-Pourshadi is a Senior Editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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