A health system improves patient satisfaction by starting with its employees.
Poor employee morale often has a trickle-down effect. Trover Health System, a 410-licensed-bed health system in Madisonville, KY, learned this the hard way when it realized poor internal communication and distrust of the organization's leadership was negatively affecting patient satisfaction. After a leadership change in 2006, Trover retooled its employee relations approach and is continuing to reap the benefits of the new strategy.
Working with strategic healthcare solutions company Ten Adams, Trover executives began to assess their weaknesses by extensively surveying employees and medical staff. The No. 1 complaint was internal communications. New President and CEO Berton Whitaker also spent a lot of time on the floor talking to staff members about their grievances.
"Out of all of that came the concept of the New Trover, which was a restatement of our values and what I liked to call a recommitment of what we've done here for a long time," he says. "It tends to get a little stale, so every now and then it's important for an organization to take a deep breath and say, 'What are we really about here?'"
After assessing the damage, Trover embarked on a strategic plan called "the pathway to success," which established four core values of safety, quality, compassion, and accountability. To guide the organization on this journey, Whitaker assembled a team of 18 employees—from executives to housekeeping—to serve as Pathway champions, a new cultural transformation group. The group surveyed staff, set immediate and long-term goals, and crafted an improvement strategy.
"They basically took the research findings and the internal communications work plan and began to identify a number of things that they could help us do to create and reinforce a new culture with Trover Health System," says Joe Miller, vice president of strategic planning and marketing for Trover. "They really got involved in some vital ongoing peer leadership and they tried to take full advantage of opportunities to communicate and reinforce the organizational message of positive change and renewal in the organization. A lot of the work they did was peer to peer in their departments—we call it 'standing up for the New Trover'—speaking with a passion for our services and core values."
One of the main initiatives the Pathway Champions developed was the 10/10/10 program. Each quarter, Whitaker addresses 10 top questions and concerns, meets with 10 people to discuss solutions, and asks each person to share what they've learned with 10 more people. Whitaker continually seeks out feedback and responds to it as he goes. It may sound simple, but it's been successful.
"If the employees feel informed, if the employees feel like they're coming to a place where people care about them and it's a positive work environment and that can only have a positive impact on patient care, then people are going to feel motivated and inclined to reach out to the patient and the family and do a better job if they feel like they're engaged in something meaningful," he says. "And I'm telling you it worked."
In the past year, patient satisfaction has increased across the board, jumping 18% from 37.7% to 45.8% for the ED and 6% from 52.3% to 55.8% for inpatient nursing. The health system recently launched a new ad campaign reintroducing itself to the community as "The New Trover." Ads feature employees and promote the new organizational values.
Despite this success, Whitaker is not letting up anytime soon.
"We're not going to take anything for granted," he says. "We need to continually find new and better ways to communicate; we have to engage our employees and our medical staff in dialogue continually to monitor what are our strengths and weaknesses, we need to keep our survey going and reach the goal we want to reach, monitor it if it starts to drop, react, and overreact. We've got to mange and control those things that we can manage and control."