Skip to main content

Patient satisfaction advisory program sees rapid growth

Apr. 21, 2016, 8:31 AM

An enhanced emphasis on communication with patients was among the recommendations for improvement suggested by those taking part in Advise Vanderbilt. (photo by Joe Howell)

More than 5,600 people are participating in Advise Vanderbilt six months after Vanderbilt University Medical Center launched the program of online advisers to help leadership improve patient satisfaction and patient and family engagement in care.

The program is open to anyone interested in improving the patient experience at Vanderbilt — including patients, faculty and staff — at

“We probably have one of the largest patient and family advisory councils in the country, if not the world, because of Advise Vanderbilt,” said Terrell Smith, MSN, R.N., director of Patient and Family Engagement.

Smith said VUMC launched the program to increase the diversity of people who advise the institution. Vanderbilt has patient and family advisory councils that offer advice on patient satisfaction and quality improvement initiatives. But the meetings aren’t easily accessible to everyone, Smith said. For example, parents with children or homebound patients might find it inconvenient or impossible to attend.

In addition, VUMC leaders wanted to increase the diversity of respondents by race, diagnosis, education level, socioeconomic status, age and gender identity.

Smith worked with VUMC Strategic Marketing and an outside vendor to create the program, which was quickly successful. A soft opening in August to just VUMC faculty, staff and advisory council members resulted in 300 people signing up overnight, which astounded Smith.

“I was going to be really excited if I got 50 to 100 people,” she said. “By the next day, there were 1,200.”

Next, VUMC sent out an invitation to select patients based on email addresses provided during clinic visits. Thousands signed up, from Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, representing a diversity of income groups and education levels.

Once a base of advisers had been established, VUMC began inviting them to respond to monthly surveys. The first asked, “From your experience as a patient, or a patient’s family member, what do you advise is the No. 1 priority that we need to focus on in the coming year?”

Respondents asked for improvements in these areas, by rank:

• Access to care (shorten wait times)

• Communications with doctors (take time to explain clearly to the patient the diagnosis, the reason for tests and prescriptions, allow the patient time to ask questions, listen closely to the patient.)

• Billing

• Customer service (front desk/reception areas)

• Waiting areas for surgical patient family members

• Standardized processes for clinic check-in

• Guidance on healthy lifestyles

• Cleanliness

• Communicating research underway

Nearly 50 percent of advisers are responding to the surveys and “we read every single one of them,” Smith said. “We get the majority of responses within 48 hours.”

VUMC is already using the feedback to improve the patient experience and engagement. For example, a video has been developed for faculty orientation to encourage doctors to be mindful to communicate with patients in language they understand. And VUMC Strategic Marketing now offers, a portal that encourages healthy lifestyles.

“The Advise Vanderbilt initiative has been a home run,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., Chief Patient Experience and Service Officer and Chief Medical Officer of Vanderbilt Medical Group.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from such a large cross section of our patients and community and pleased that they feel so engaged. Advise Vanderbilt already is providing critical input to our strategic decision making.”

Recent Stories from VUMC News and Communications Publications

Vanderbilt Medicine
VUMC Voice