Through a patient’s eyes
Why a quality experience is a crucial part of quality care and what UF Health is doing about it
By April Frawley
It may sound strange, but this was one of the most common questions pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Mark Bleiweis, M.D., heard from the parents of his patients before the grand opening of the new UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Why? For parents of children with congenital heart defects, who often spend weeks to months at a time in the hospital, having a bathroom in the ICU room means they won’t have to leave their sick kids when they tend to personal needs. As one mom explained, “Having bathrooms and being able to tend to personal needs in the same proximity would make the experience exponentially less stressful. Especially when kids are little. They don’t want you to leave the room.”
When patients come to UF Health, or any health system, the quality of the care they receive is, of course, the most important aspect of their stay. But a key part of the quality of care isn’t just receiving the right treatment from highly qualified physicians and nurses — that’s a given — it’s also how they experience their care.
For patients, navigating the hallways of any hospital can be a daunting experience, never mind navigating the entire health care system and dealing with a complex diagnosis at the same time. At UF Health, leaders are focused on improving every aspect of a patient’s experience, from the moment they call to make an appointment to the follow-up care they receive years later.
“We are trying to change the notion that patients should be happy to be here. They are our guests in our home and we should treat them like that,” said Randy Harmatz, M.B.A., chief quality officer for UF Health. “We are trying to draw the connection that we are all part of the team for the patient. Everything affects the patient. It doesn’t matter whether you work in a lab, in food service, environmental services; everyone who belongs to the UF Health family has an impact on the patient’s experience.”
Seemingly simple things can drastically affect how patients perceive their entire care experience, Harmatz says. Getting lost because of poor wayfinding signage, long stays in the waiting room with no communication from staff members and mixed-up dates for appointments can also cause patients to have a poor experience before they even greet their physician.
“Often, it’s simple things that affect how patients feel about their experience, and much of it boils down to miscommunication,” Harmatz said. “Keeping patients informed is crucial.”
To get a better grasp on the issues that affect patients the most — and begin improving them — UF Health leaders have sought the help of experts … the patients, themselves.
“Our patients provide us with a wealth of information based on knowledge they have gained while receiving care at our facilities,” said Christine Cassisi, the director of patient experience at UF Health Shands Hospital. “They help us with ideas on how to improve basic care and services, our communication and the effectiveness of patient education. Their input also helps with facility design.
“Our patients are a starting point, not an end point. They need to be at the beginning.”
More than a year ago, UF Health Shands Hospital began recruiting patient advisers to help with various projects, such as working with the radiation oncology department to improve services or giving input on the appearance of lobby areas.
In the fall, a patient-family advisory committee was established in pediatrics that brings together senior leaders with parents of pediatric patients. Co-led by Cassisi and Angela Miney, who works as a family partner in the department of pediatrics’ division of pulmonary medicine and is a parent of a patient, the team is focusing on projects where getting a parent’s and patient’s perspective is key, Cassisi says.
At the group’s first meeting, parents shared their experiences with leaders, including the things that frustrated them, Miney said.
“We heard good and bad,” she said. “It was eye-opening for the people who work here. Because you work here all the time, you don’t see it from the perspective of a family coming here in crisis for care.
“We are becoming more patient- and family-centered.”
Working more closely with patients is just one of the tactics UF Health is using to improve the patient experience. Last summer, the Quality team held a retreat specifically focused on improving the patient experience. Since then, leaders have been using the information gathered to put together a comprehensive hospitality initiative that will be unveiled this summer. Details on this will appear in the summer Q Report.
In addition, a new patient satisfaction survey — one of the most crucial tools leaders use to gauge and improve the patient’s experience — will launch soon. Leaders and staff members with UF Health Physicians have taken part in Patient First University, a program that promotes a patient-centered approach, as well.
“We are making progress, but we have a long way to go,” Harmatz said. “Just because we are treating patients does not mean we cannot also deliver the highest hospitality.”