August 26, 2005

Service recovery initiatives outlined

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Service recovery initiatives outlined

A transformed patient satisfaction survey, a plan to instill new staff and faculty work standards and a standardized method for responding to patient complaints were among the topics covered at last week's Vanderbilt University Medical Center leadership seminar at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University.

Approximately 700 Medical Center leaders attended one of two daylong sessions. This program was the third in a quarterly series called the VUMC Leadership Development Institute, part of elevate, the wide-ranging VUMC improvement initiative that started last November.

“It is remarkable how much we have been able to accomplish [through elevate] and, equally remarkable, how far we have to go,” Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Harry Jacobson, M.D., told the group.

“The point of these sessions is to give you the tools to build a staff that is confident, directed, resourced and connected to you, your team and our purpose,” he said. Jacobson greeted the assembly on both days, commenting on VUMC strengths and opportunities and outlining the day's agenda.

In the afternoons, health care consultant Quint Studer previewed some of the changes that will take shape as elevate proceeds.

Assistant Hospital Director Wendy Leutgens spoke about special means available to leaders as they present VUMC's new work standards to staff and faculty in their areas. Leutgens screened a video that featured the catch phrase “It's who we are.” The video is available for viewing from a new VUMC staff and faculty Web site devoted to elevate, at

First introduced at the May seminar, the work standards, or “credo behaviors,” were devised over several months of small-group discussions involving approximately 600 staff and faculty.

Through the coming fall and winter, leaders will periodically receive training kits to help them present various aspects of the work standards in depth, and to help them evaluate how well groups of staff and faculty take up the standards. The standards also will be featured in staff and faculty orientation and in annual job evaluations.

For years, VUMC mailed patient satisfaction questionnaires to nearly all inpatients and to a significant sample of outpatients (or their parents), and with this method the survey results lagged about three months behind dates of service. Vice President for Strategic Development Ron Hill told the assembly that VUMC switched in July to a telephone-based survey conducted by Professional Research Consultants, better known as PRC. With the new method, outpatient results will be posted on a secure Web site within a week of service and inpatient results will be posted within two weeks of discharge. In addition to providing results that are much more timely and thus more useful for pinpointing opportunities for improvement, the new method will allow Vanderbilt to compare itself against benchmarks derived from the approximately 1,500 hospitals in the PRC customer group. In all, PRC is fielding seven questionnaires for VUMC — adult inpatient, pediatric inpatient, adult ED, pediatric ED, ambulatory surgery, physician office visit and outpatient technical services (e.g., CT scan).

Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs Jerry Hickson, M.D., told the assembly that responding well to complaints voiced by patients and families in the hospital and clinic requires certain skills, in addition to common sense. Hickson introduced a simple protocol, developed by the elevate Service Recovery Team, that is designed to help staff and faculty “make right what went wrong.” The protocol is called HEART, which stands for Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Respond and Thank. Leaders will be first to undergo training in the use of the protocol. All staff and faculty will be expected to give priority to any complaint, responding with a solution or an appropriate hand-off.

Studer spent much of his time with the group talking about how patient anxiety can be reduced and compliance with doctors recommendations can be boosted if staff and faculty will adopt a few additional habits of communication. For example, it shouldn't be forgotten that patients are helped considerably by being told the expected duration for any process they undergo in the hospital or clinic, and they also often benefit by hearing at least in broad outline about the level of work experience of the health care providers who are helping them. As elevate proceeds, staff and faculty will learn more about these and other tips for communication with patients and families.

The next VUMC Leadership Development Institute is schedule for Dec. 15 and 16.