January 29, 2010

Team of ‘coaches’ sets sights on satisfaction levels

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Patient satisfaction coaches, from left, Sean Carroll, Lynn Webb, Ph.D., Cindy Wedel, M.P.A., and John Leonard, M.D. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Team of ‘coaches’ sets sights on satisfaction levels

Satisfied patients are more loyal, more apt to return and more likely to recommend their doctor and hospital to friends and family.

They're also thought to be more inclined to take their medication as prescribed and otherwise follow a clinician's recommended course of care and prevention.

That's why patient satisfaction surveys have for years run nonstop at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and why performance appraisals for hospital and clinic leaders are in some measure tied to VUMC targets for patient satisfaction.

As part of this move toward a culture of service excellence, VUMC has over the past two years assembled its own in-house team of 'coaches' dedicated to helping clinics, hospital units and individual clinicians improve patient satisfaction. Formerly, outside consultants handled this coaching for VUMC.

For clinics and hospital units the coaching typically lasts six to eight weeks, with follow-up contact continuing for about a year afterward.

One-on-one coaching for clinicians is less drawn out, usually including a review of patient feedback followed by a half-day of observation as the clinician works with patients in the clinic.

“We're really not focused on raising scores — we're focused on identifying the reasons patients' perceptions of their care vary across VUMC, and then trying to offer suggestions to make the patient experience excellent,” said the team's leader, Senior Coach Cindy Wedel, M.P.A., who joined VUMC in 2008.

Wedel and Coach Sean Carroll work full time out of the Vanderbilt Center for Organization Development and Learning. Rounding out the coaching team are Lynn Webb, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for Health Affairs, and John Leonard, M.D., professor of Medicine, both of whom incorporate part-time coaching into their broader duties at VUMC.

Leonard works one-on-one with clinicians and Webb works both one-on-one and with clinics.

The addition of Leonard to the team this past October created more capacity to provide physician coaching. Carroll works primarily with inpatient managers and staff and Wedel coaches wherever needed. A sole remaining outside coach, Wolf Schynoll, M.D., will wrap up his work for Vanderbilt by June.

Wedel estimates that half of her team's work is assigned based on VUMC patient feedback and the other half comes by way of referral from individual department chairs, clinical chiefs, patient care center directors and unit managers.

“To more fully understand what recommendations will be most useful to staff and physicians, we have to understand the nuances of each clinic or unit,” Wedel said. “As we come across specific service issues, we often link people up with folks elsewhere in the Medical Center who have already solved the issue.”

LuAnn Buchholz, R.N., assistant manager of the Vanderbilt Allergy, Sinus and Asthma Program, said her clinic recently determined that it could benefit from some coaching, in part to address patient perceptions about teamwork.

“Our coach took us through all the basics in very concrete terms: what to communicate as you take the patient through the waiting room, to the schedulers, to the nurse practitioner, to our testing area.

“You can change perceptions for the better if you simply ensure that you've told the patient the name of the next person they're going to interact with, and you've explained what's going to happen,” Buchholz said.

To request coaching, call Wedel at 322-2905.