The simple strategy that dramatically raised a hospital's patient satisfaction scores

CEO tells employees to bring their 'hearts' to work

With lagging patient satisfaction scores, the CEO of one hospital tried a novel approach: He told employees to bring their "hearts" to work, Gary Hamel writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Loren Hamel—Gary Hamel's brother—is the CEO of Michigan-based Lakeland Health, a 4,000-employee health system with about $500 million in annual revenue.

Hospitals struggle to bring up their patient satisfaction scores

When Loren Hamel assumed the role of CEO, Lakeland performed well on several metrics that can help drive patient satisfaction, including effective patient communication, response time to call lights, and food quality.

Yet, the health system's patient satisfaction scores were still stuck between the 25th and 50th percentile, in part because of its challenging patient mix. In addition, the system had little money for additional initatives and there "didn't seem to be a lot more that Lakeland could learn from its peers," Gary Hamel explains.

An audacious goal

With few other options, Loren Hamel keyed in on a low-cost way to improve the patient experience—pushing employees to radically rethink how they engage with patients. The theme of the campaign: "Bring Your Heart to Work."

Loren Hamel set the goal of raising the system's patient satisfaction score to the 90th percentile in 90 days. He instructed his staff, "Every time you interact with a patient, tell them who you are, what you're there to do, and then share a heartfelt why." Loren Hamel offered the example of telling a patient, "I'm here [to] change your dressings, 'cause we want you home in time for your granddaughter's wedding.'"

Executives and other senior leaders promoted the initiative. Loren Hamel "rounded" 120 times over the next three months to check in one how employees were connecting with patients. And whenever a patient or a colleague reported a heartfelt gesture, a senior leader arrived within minutes to thank the responsible employee.

Some gestures were small, but not insignificant. For instance, a receptionist noticed that patients were more likely to smile when she said "the doctor would like to invite you back," rather than "the doctor wants you back."

Has the focus on patient satisfaction gone too far?

Others were more profound. A husband became distraught upon learning of his wife's terminal illness—she likely would not leave the hospital alive. Security was called, but as things escalated a passing nurse approached the man. "Can I hug you?" she asked. Thy embraced for 20 minutes as the man sobbed and regained his composure to tend to his ailing wife.

Making a difference

All-told, Lakeland tracked more than 6,000 stories of staff members going the extra mile for patients. The system's quality scores also began to rise for response times, pain management, and discharge planning. And, within 90 days, the hospital reached the 95th percentile for patient satisfaction.

The CEO says the program had other benefits as well. "There was a clinical benefit. We are in the business of saving lives, of enhancing heath, of restoring hope. When we touch the hearts of our patients we create a healing relationship that… improves outcomes," Loren Hamel explains (Hamel, Harvard Business Review, 6/12).

The takeaway: Facing a tough environment in which to improve low patient satisfaction scores, one CEO asked employees to engage emotionally with patients—to great effect.

What hospitals overlook about the patient experience

Patient experience is top of mind for health care providers across the country. And every member of the hospital care team—from administrators to service line leaders and everyone in between—is vital in ensuring a patient is comfortable and kept informed from entry to discharge.

The Daily Briefing's Clare Rizer recently sat down with Jessica Suchy, a senior director for Advisory Board Performance Technologies and dedicated advisor for iRound's patient experience tool, to understand how health care's approach to patient experience is being transformed.

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