Making a good thing better: One hospital’s rallying call

Satisfied staff equals satisfied patients

How does a hospital get a No. 1 ranking and score in the 99th percentile on the South Bend, IN-based Press Ganey Associates patient satisfaction survey? It might have something to do with taking a good situation and continually trying to improve it.

A new customer service initiative in the admissions department at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, started because, while the customer service numbers were always good, "we knew we could make them better," says Ponetta Barber, admissions manager. "We asked our staff members, What are things we could do that would specifically improve our area?’"

Admitting staff came up with ideas such giving patients and their families complimentary meal tickets or valet parking passes when they have to wait for a room or are inconvenienced in some other way, she says.

Admissions also works closely with the patient relations staff in such situations, Barber adds, contacting that department when patients have waited for an extended length of time. "They send gift baskets, flowers, or something else they think is appropriate to the patient’s room."

It also is admissions department policy for an employee to check in every 15 minutes with patients who are waiting for a room, she says. When patients have been waiting an hour, the employee notifies Barber or admissions supervisor Regina King, "and we go out and talk to the patient as well," Barber adds. "It’s just a conscious effort to make us all more aware that patients are waiting."

For each of the two quarters that ended June 30, 2002, the hospital achieved the No. 1 rating and scored in the 99th percentile on the Press Ganey survey, she says, and the extra customer service push began shortly before that period.

Keith Weatherman, CAM, associate director of patient finance, says he believes the high employee morale and extremely low turnover rate in the admissions department are major components in the customer service achievement.

"It probably boils down to just recognizing that they are more than employees, they’re people, and treating them with respect all the time," he adds, crediting the "family-type atmosphere" that Barber fosters.

Many of the admitting staff have been with the department 10 years or more, Barber notes. Most employees are cross-trained, she says, and are flexible about switching areas and doing "whatever it takes to get the job done."

That might involve working in any of the areas under her supervision, which include admissions, bed control, patient escort, ancillary clinics, and scheduling, and if necessary, she says, helping out in the emergency department, which is under another manager.

On an employee climate survey conducted last spring, Weatherman points out, the admissions department exceeded its score on the previous survey and did better than the rest of the hospital. "They don’t wait for that [measurement], though," he adds. "They’re constantly doing a sort of internal climate survey, making themselves available and listening to staff."

"We held meetings with staff and asked them about the barriers they encounter in their everyday jobs," King says. "It’s important that we give them feedback on that."

Complaints aired at the meeting were taken care of quickly and, if that wasn’t possible, employees were kept apprised of the situation, Weatherman adds. "We didn’t just leave them hanging."

Employees were concerned, for example, that the department didn’t have enough wheelchairs and carts for transporting patients and their belongings to the nursing units, and that a lounge chair was needed for patients who had to wait for awhile, he says. "Nothing was outrageous. They asked, for example, if housekeeping could do a better job of cleaning a particular area."

The department’s extensive training program is another contributor to employee and patient satisfaction, Weatherman suggests. New admitting employees receive a week of initial training with the hospital’s verification and quality services staff, Barber says, and continue to get on-the-job instruction within the admissions department.

"[Training] goes on for several months," King adds. "There is a training checklist at least four pages long. New employees sit with more experienced employees and get hands-on training."

The verification and quality services department, meanwhile, reviews demographic and financial information for accuracy, Weatherman notes, and admitting supervisors distribute the results to employees.

[For more information, contact:

Keith Weatherman, CAM, associate director of patient finance, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC. Telephone: (336) 713-4748. E-mail: kweather@wfubmc.edu.]