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Patient and Family Promise key to Medical Center’s success

Feb. 2, 2017, 9:30 AM

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., speaks at Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly in Langford Auditorium. (photo by Anne Rayner)
Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., speaks at Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly in Langford Auditorium. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) makes this promise to patients and their families: to include them as a member of the health care team, respect their privacy, coordinate and personalize their care, communicate clearly and serve them with kindness and respect. Delivering on that promise was the theme of Wednesday’s Winter Leadership Assembly in Langford Auditorium.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of VUMC, and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, began the assembly by reiterating the Medical Center’s strategic directions for the next five years.

First and foremost, VUMC will design its health care system around patients and families in a way that fosters inclusion and diversity, responds to the need for better access and convenience, and amplifies innovation.

Through VUMC’s commitment to Discover Learn and Share, advancing patient care through discovery is exemplified by expansion of PREDICT, a program that uses prospective genetic testing to guide the selection and dosing of an ever-growing list of medications, and by efforts to decode the genetic underpinnings of the immune system as a way to better understand its contribution to disease.

Supporting the strategic direction for Making Diversity and Inclusion Intentional, Balser said portraits of Lee Limbird, Ph.D., Arnold Malcolm, M.D., MBA, Sarah Sell, M.D., Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., and others will be displayed in the School of Medicine to better reflect the diversity of its faculty and leaders. And there will be upcoming training events in unconscious bias and cultural competency that will be available to every member of the Medical Center community.

Balser encouraged those in attendance to consider ways to Amplify Innovation, another of the Medical Center’s strategic directions, through initiatives such as the RAdX Innovation Challenge being held on Feb. 16 in which participants will be seeking new ways to bring diagnostic techniques to patients.

For Design for Patients and Families, VUMC is working with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to implement an Oncology Care Model that incorporates such features as extended hours, palliative care and hospice counseling, and patient “navigators” who help patients traverse the complexities of ambulatory cancer care.

More than 850 new navigator encounters have occurred in the past three months alone, Balser said.

Access and convenience are being addressed through eStar, part of the massive and wide-ranging technology initiative known as EpicLeap, which will eliminate all paper forms and records that are so cumbersome and time-consuming for patients and caregivers alike.

Patients returning for a follow-up clinic visit will soon see another convenience — they’ll be able to schedule their appointments online.

EpicLeap, which will launch in November, is one of the Medical Center’s key priorities this year. Balser encouraged employees to download Hubbl, the new EpicLeap app for communication and task management at

Fulfilling the promise to patients and families also requires continued growth.

Nashville’s population is expected to swell by a half million new people by 2035. To prepare for that, four floors in Medical Center East will be converted for inpatient care, and outpatient services will be expanded at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks and other nearby locations, Balser said.

Supporting the key priority of Academic Performance, growth also is occurring in the research arena. In the second quarter of the current fiscal year, nearly 17,000 patients participated in 476 clinical trials at VUMC. As that number continues to grow, it gives patients confidence that they’re getting the most innovative care, he said.

Workforce engagement is another key priority this year. Focusing on employees is essential because ultimately they are the ones who define the patient’s experience, Balser said.

By donning a cowboy hat to make his point, Balser closed his remarks by explaining HaT: Human and Task. “The acronym represents that as compassionate Humans we demonstrate empathy, listen deeply and smile. With our compassionate Tasks, we build more efficiency into our operations that centers on the needs of patients,” he said.

In his presentation, C. Wright Pinson, M.D., MBA, VUMC’s Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer, stressed employee retention as a high-impact goal. During the first half of the current fiscal year, retention is at the highest it’s been in four years, he said, and patient satisfaction scores have surpassed our reach target. Academic performance is on track in terms of participants and active studies.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., reviewed operational performance at Wednesday’s meeting. (photo by Anne Rayner)
C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., reviewed operational performance at Wednesday’s meeting. (photo by Anne Rayner)

In fact, so far this fiscal year, the Medical Center has met 16 of 18 currently measurable metrics in the five pillar areas of people, service, quality, growth and finance and innovation, a threshold success rate so far of 89 percent.

Also, gains have been made in the number of new patients seen within five and 15 days. Access work is ongoing and an institutional top priority. Quality metrics are at or near threshold including patient harm index and readmission rates. In growth and finance, the Medical Center has done well with strong volumes and good expense control. In the area of innovation, “we’re on track to double the number of tele-health visits this year,” Pinson said.

“Our VUMC Culture Survey is scheduled for May. We want our workforce to know that their input last year was heard and is being put into action.”

All of these efforts reflect the commitment to the patient promise. “Patients and their families are our highest priority and purpose,” Pinson said. “Whether someone works at the bedside, in a classroom, in a lab or in an office, we are all doing our best for our patients and their families. Treat each patient, each family and each other “the way you’d like to be treated,” he concluded. “Never underestimate the power that you have to make a difference.”

To help guide efforts to fulfill the promise, the Medical Center relies on three patient and family advisory councils and on Advise Vanderbilt — — one of the nation’s largest communities of online health care advisors. “We also have a half million followers across our social media platforms,” he said.

“You are making a difference with your aligned efforts,” he said. “Medicine is a complicated team effort and it takes an integrated system to keep the patient in the center of it.”

To honor this difference that employees make in the lives of patients every day, the Medical Center will hold a new all VUMC event, “Celebrate the Difference YOU Make Every Day!, April 20 and 21, Pinson said. More details will be announced soon.

Pinson then introduced the concept of storytelling as a management tool. “Every person has stories,” he said. “Stories are very powerful. Storytelling enables empathy, creates engagement and connections with each other. It’s even been shown to reduce stress and increase resilience.”

Storytelling was the subject of a keynote address by Jason Wolf, Ph.D., president of The Beryl Institute and founder and president of the Patient Experience Institute, which is committed to the improvement of patient experience through research and education.

“Every patient has a story,” Wolf said. “Every person encountered in the health care setting becomes part of the patient’s experience. That’s why VUMC’s promise is important. That is who we say we’re going to be for our patients and families,” he said. “That is who we say we’re going to be for each other.” Training in the effective use of storytelling followed the Leadership Assembly in a breakout session.

Prior to Wolf’s remarks, those attending the assembly were treated to a performance by the country music duo Maddie and Tae of their hit song “Fly.”

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