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We all must lead to improve patient experience

February 20th, 2013

by Jason A. Wolf

Some fundamental ideas have been shared about efforts to impact and improve the patient experience, many right here at Hospital Impact. We have seen the conversation range from the bottom-line impact of making the right choices to the power of compassion in influencing patient and family encounters to the importance of engaging and recognizing staff.

One thing that has been implicit in all these discussions, embedded in much of the research and apparent in my travels to healthcare organizations, is that the engagement, focus and commitment of leadership is central to patient experience success.

In recent research conducted at The Beryl Institute, we asked U.S. healthcare leaders what they saw as the drivers for patient experience success. The top response noted by more than 72 percent of participants was "strong, visible support from the top."

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This is significant, as my personal encounters have shown that those organizations recognized not only in scores, but also in reputation for providing the best in patient experience, have highly involved leaders. The power of leadership involvement is not found in one particular style or specific practice, but rather emerges in the way the leader brings who she or he is to the overall organizational objectives and purpose.

In one case, a CEO conducted "Mr. Clean Rounds," which allowed him to spend time walking the halls looking at the presentation of the facility, its cleanliness and potential clutter. He also used this time to engage casually with staff in various departments to find out what they needed or learn more about challenges or opportunities at the facility.

In another situation, a chief nursing office talked about the "informal" leader meetings she pulled together. These were interdisciplinary teams of informal leaders from various units--not directors or managers, but people who clearly helped influence the direction of their departments. At these meetings, leaders discussed organizational priorities, addressed key project ideas and effectively disseminated information throughout the organization at lightening speed.

While these may seem like two simple practices, they have great significance. Staff respond and feel listened to, ideas are shared, actions taken and progress made. Perhaps it is here where leadership at the top makes the greatest impact--in unleashing the ideas that are bound up in our walls, bringing life to potential plans that can influence performance and outcomes.

It is important to note that leadership is not something only owned at the top, as our research showed the second driver for patient experience success was having managers who visibly support patient experience efforts.

So perhaps the bottom line is this: When it comes to patient experience improvement, when it comes to providing the quality, safety and service we would expect for our loved-ones, and ourselves, we all must be leaders, regardless of formal "role." It is an important choice to make and a powerful voice to have if we are to provide the best experience for all.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is president of The Beryl Institute, where he specializes in organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.

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