November 5, 2004

Patient satisfaction at heart of VUMC quality initiative

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Patient satisfaction at heart of VUMC quality initiative

Leaders are preparing to open a new chapter at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

They say they want to renew and sharpen the commitment to service and operational excellence, and that among their chief aims is to improve the experience of patients in Vanderbilt hospitals and clinics.

While they're about it, the leadership team plans to refine how work in general is directed at VUMC. New goals and accountability for patient satisfaction will be matched with goals and accountability for clinical quality, financial results, staff and faculty satisfaction and growth in patient volume.

“Our work to help patients overcome sickness and injury and live healthier lives is extremely valuable, and the people who work here are great at what they do,” said Vice Chancellor Harry R. Jacobson, M.D. “I wonder how many of us also believe that the current overall customer experience of our patients appropriately reflects who we are and the role our organization is meant to play in the lives of the people who come to us every day for help?

“There's every reason to insist on uncompromising customer service,” Jacobson added. “Vanderbilt is poised to help improve and reshape health care, but if we're to hope to fulfill any part of this promise, the experience of our patients needs to figure more strongly in how we do our work. The best in customer service coupled with our already incomparable clinical care will help us reach our goal of being the health care provider of choice in our entire region.”

Sweeping efforts toward change at VUMC will be focused into a program that will be known as “Elevate.” In meetings Nov. 22 and 23, some 900 VUMC managers will get a first daylong look at the principles, goals and strategies that leaders say will help take the VUMC clinical enterprise to new levels.

Vanderbilt Medical Group Chief Operating Officer David R. Posch led the search for organizational development consultants to help with the change. VUMC settled on the Studer Group, which Posch said takes an approach of treating staff and faculty satisfaction as the key to patient satisfaction and overall success.

Led by former health care executive Quint Studer, the company has worked with top-performing organizations such as The Cleveland Clinic and Sisters of Mercy Health System.

“Like employees everywhere, we're most satisfied when we have the right tools and we see clearly how to succeed at work,” Posch said.

“Our approach will emphasize communication so that everyone is clear about the nature of their work and what is needed to help accomplish organizational goals. The change in our culture will be driven by a balanced set of measurable goals and a system for consistent accountability, from senior management to front-line staff.”

Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn A. Dubree, R.N., said this new chapter in the organizational development of VUMC will be anchored in the values that have traditionally drawn people to work in health care.

“This journey begins with the fact that we're already individually driven to help patients,” Dubree said. “We're about to see how that core purpose might be advanced through new approaches to communication, outcomes measurement, accountability and customer service. I'm excited to begin this change in our culture and in how we serve our patients and each other.”

Chief Medical Officer C. Wright Pinson, M.D., said some organizational goals may be ready to announce later this month, while others, such as those for clinical quality, may require fuller discussion among leaders and experts.

“In any event, we'll soon have a balanced scorecard of measurable goals to spur communication and overall development of our clinical enterprise.

“We agree with Studer's advice that staff and faculty satisfaction is the place to begin,” Pinson added. “The lower our job turnover is and the more satisfied we are as a workforce, the better we can address goals for quality, financial return, volume growth and patient satisfaction.”

Robert Kay, M.D., chief of staff at The Cleveland Clinic, said that after two years of work with Studer consultants his organization is seeing excellent results in terms of patient, staff and faculty satisfaction.

“I would say that it has been a fundamental change for us at The Cleveland Clinic. … It's not really a program, it's a way of life.”