Welcome to the Future

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Magazine , November 12, 2009
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Leaders converge to consider what factors will shape healthcare in the years to come, and how best to succeed.

What do dolls have to do with healthcare leadership? Attendees at HealthLeaders Media 09: The Hospital of the Future Now were likely wondering the same thing when the event kicked off last month with an American Girl doll sitting front-and-center on the speaker's podium.

The answer became clear as Gar Crispell, general manager for American Girl, shared stories about the personal connection young girls form with their dolls and the great lengths to which American Girl employees go to create memorable experiences that strengthen that connection.

Although Crispell has never worked in healthcare, he was one of several leaders from other industries who joined a faculty from the best hospitals, health plans, and medial groups to discuss how to meet the goals of a future healthcare system today.

The conversations at Chicago's Palmer House hotel ranged from doll-making to reform, but panelists identified five key areas that will shape the future of healthcare.

Patient experience
The future of the U.S. economy, and the future of healthcare, will be centered on creating memorable experiences for customers, said Joe Pine, best-selling author of The Experience Economy, during a keynote address at the conference.

For companies like American Girl—which Pine singled out as a good example of the new economic model—that means listening to what girls want, even if employees have to treat a doll like a real person. For hospitals, it means prioritizing patient experience at every level of the organization—from custodians to the C-suite.

Employees at Sharp HealthCare try to establish a human connection with patients within the first three minutes of their interaction, said Sonia Rhodes, vice president of customer strategy for the San Diego-based system. Although training employees to prioritize patient experience can be a challenge—and convincing physicians can be a bigger one—hospital success increasingly depends on it, panelists said.

Building the right workforce begins at hiring. Debra A. Canales, executive vice president and chief human resource officer at Trinity Health, told attendees she recently invited a potential CFO recruit to a three-hour dinner, in part to pick up clues about whether the candidate would be able to live the organization's values.

However, the hard-to-get talent in healthcare only wants to work for the best, so hospitals have to prove to employees that they're able to "walk the talk" as well. Trinity Health approaches retention by encouraging employees to be mobile within the organization, Canales said. If employees aren't entirely happy in their current position, they're not only allowed to speak with leaders about different career paths and take new jobs, they're encouraged to do so. Instead of leaving for another field or hospital, they often switch jobs while staying within the health system.

Even facility design can affect patient experience. Pine offered the example of North Hawaii Community Hospital, where every room looks out onto healing gardens and careful attention is paid to landscape and design; both patients and employees enjoy their time there, he said.

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