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Digital growth, improvements, vaccinations: Leadership Assembly takeaways

Aug. 5, 2021, 10:05 AM


by Holly Fletcher

Vanderbilt University Medical Center completed its first full fiscal year of the COVID-19 era having achieved remarkable outcomes in digital health, growth and quality because of consistently strong performance from its workforce.

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, discusses VUMC’s top priorities during this week’s Leadership Assembly.
Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, discusses VUMC’s top priorities during this week’s Leadership Assembly. (photo by Donn Jones)

The Medical Center strengthened its relationship with patients through a “digital revolution” and by opening new services and locations throughout the region — accomplishments that spotlight priorities for the upcoming fiscal year and beyond, leaders said during streaming of the August 2021 Leadership Assembly.

The Medical Center’s top priority continues to be keeping its patients and workforce safe from the new surge of COVID-19 by encouraging vaccinations and masking on the Vanderbilt Health campuses and in the community.

While more than 90% of those in leadership positions are already vaccinated, the remainder of individuals leader roles need to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 15. The emphasis on COVID-19 mitigation is a part of the Medical Center’s mission to keep people healthy.

“Our Medical Center is considered a role model and through a host of extraordinary accomplishments over the past few years, we’ve become  far more visible as a national leader. Asking our leaders to be vaccinated not only protects our people and our patients, but demonstrates Vanderbilt’s confidence in the vaccine, and shows the public our overall commitment to vaccination. Thank you to those of us already vaccinated, and please make extra efforts to encourage your colleagues and team members to register for vaccination as soon as possible,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

FY 2021 Highlights and New Priorities Moving into FY2022

“Digital Revolution”

Digital offerings such as telehealth visits and pre-visit messages, now available to patients through apps and web-based platforms are surging, and the rapid expansion in the early days of the pandemic thrust the Medical Center ahead of its goals.

Digital access measures — use of MyHealth patient portal and telehealth ambulatory visits — in the Pillar Goals performed significantly higher than reach for the year, said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer. The growing suite of services available at patients’ fingertips is one driver behind rising patient satisfaction scores, and a reminder that patients expect to be in touch with VUMC in new, real-time methods.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, provided updates on progress and performance.
C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, provided updates on progress and performance. (photo by Donn Jones)

There are a host of new digital services, including annual check-up and health maintenance reminders, automated refill messages, on the horizon. In the fall, digital pre-check in will roll out, eliminating the paper intake forms at the start of visits.

VUMC’s home health program is the foundation of a COVID-19 response program that is being expanded. At the peaks of the pandemic there were times at which VUMC managed nearly 30 patients in their own homes keeping them from inpatient admission. It was an enormous success and the “digital revolution” demonstrated we can safely care for some patients at home instead of in the hospital, Balser said.

“COVID-19 drove us to pursue digital transformations we’d only imagined, much sooner than we expected. The truth is, the public now realizes that we can deliver a major portion of their care to them, the way they want it — at home, and as a routine part of their daily activity. Not on our schedule, and often not even in our buildings,” said Balser.

Workforce engagement and recognition

The Medical Center is shifting how it collects input from the workforce through annual culture surveys. The relentless efforts from staff across the enterprise in the last year amid the stress of a pandemic demonstrated the importance of well-being and illustrated how workplace interactions impact the institution’s mission to deliver personalized, quality care, said Pinson.

The Medical Center is hosting more and various opportunities to give employees a voice about priorities and give feedback.

There are huddles, meetings, Town Hall meetings and employee surveys, said Pinson, noting the measures in culture surveys show the Medical Center is heading in the right direction.

Additionally, there will be new awards coming soon: The Patient and Family Choice Awards sponsored and selected by Patient and Family Advisory Councils.

“Our goal is to be an organization where we also care for each other in a personalized and compassionate way. How well we treat each other leads to how we treat patients, patient families, research participants, visitors, students, volunteers — you name it,” said Pinson. “You are a trusted partner in health, and that earned status is extraordinarily valuable. In general, the public is rating hospitals and health care workers at an all-time high right now. And VUMC is higher than average. Walk tall and carry the mission with you. It starts with treating each other well.”

Operations and improvements

Increasing communication and collaboration are at the core of several operational initiatives, including the Operational Control Care Center on the main campus.

The Operational Control Care Center is improving the ability to promptly transport patients to areas within the hospital, manage radiology turnaround times, expedite room cleaning, and make a host of decisions — with the goal of moving as many discharges as possible early in the day, said Balser.

There are plans for an enterprise-wide program that connects the flow of patients and need for services within the hospital system, which is now spread across Middle Tennessee.

Operational innovations are designed to ease clinical communication internally and bolster efforts around the Medical Center’s clinical goals and quality measures.

Looking ahead

The Medical Center’s academic and research engine performed above its reach goal in the last year, buoyed by swift action in response to the pandemic. The decades of expertise in vaccine research and safety positioned VUMC to emerge as a national leader in the pandemic response.

The Medical Center will continue to focus on workforce retention, improving patient appointment wait times and transition to value-based care in the coming year as it navigates rising expenses and inflation, Pinson said.

In the immediate future, vaccine education and vaccinations are a priority for the workforce and leaders at all levels.

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