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Hospitality and service help create a positive culture shift

By: Kim Rose


It takes a humble physician leader and health care executive to admit he isn’t ‘walking the talk’ and practicing some of the customer service behaviors he espouses.

But that’s what happened last year to Marvin Dewar, M.D., J.D. 

As UF College of Medicine senior associate dean and UF Health Physicians CEO, Dewar was about to introduce Patient First University to his faculty and staff. The program would teach and reinforce basic hospitality and service skills, and his colleagues and staff would be asked to model the behaviors consistently with their patients and each other.  

“I was struck by a simple concept we learned; the ‘Fifteen and Five’ rule. It says if you pass somebody in the hall within 15 feet, make eye contact and smile. If you pass within 5 feet, say hello or greet them,” Dewar said. 

“It’s a simple thing that many people do naturally. But as I began to watch what was happening in the halls around me, I noticed some people get so engrossed in their smartphone or their thoughts, they miss what’s going on around them — and I was one of those people.” 

Dewar made a commitment to himself to engage with others in a more personal way. What started as a practice has become a hardwired habit. 

“Over the next several months, I bet I said hello to more people in the hallways than I had in the previous year or two. And you know what? People noticed, colleagues commented. I had a more meaningful experience and so did they.”

Every person has an opportunity to learn and grow. And that’s the mindset UF Health faculty and staff will be asked to embrace this summer and fall as new UF Health Hospitality and Service Standards of Behavior are introduced. 

At UF Health, our patients are at the center of everything we do, and we often refer to “the patient experience.” What does this phrase really mean? It encompasses the level of service and individual attention we deliver beyond providing outstanding medical care. It reflects our commitment to make every encounter positive and rewarding for every patient, family member and visitor who seeks our help. 

 “Our dedication to quality as Job 1 has now inspired a new journey, one intended to build a culture where everyone receives consistent, hospitable and welcoming care and attention wherever and whenever they are in the UF Health system,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and UF Health president.

“This journey begins with us — how we treat each other in the workplace — and extends to how we treat everyone with whom we have contact each and every day.” 

Patient service and internal culture programs are common in hospitals and health care settings. As UF Health evolved into a truly connected and integrated academic health center, it became clear it was time to reassess the culture and use the “unstoppable momentum” and progress as a catalyst for further positive change. 

At the 2013 annual Quality Retreat last July, participants were given an assignment to observe and assess customer care at various UF Health inpatient and outpatient locations. Their findings underscored the need for consistent practices to give patients and visitors a more seamless experience wherever they receive care or service. 

Guzick and his leaders appointed a team of diverse faculty and staff members to lay the groundwork. The committee included faculty physicians, nurses, and clinical and non-clinical staff members from throughout UF Health — including UF Health Shands, the UF College of Medicine and UF Health Physicians. These colleagues took “the best of the best” from existing service programs and practices and from programs in place at peer organizations. They also took cues from hospitality industry greats, such as the Ritz Carlton and Walt Disney companies, known for providing outstanding service and creating a personal connection with customers.  

The Hospitality and Service Standards of Behavior will be the new framework for use by everyone who provides or supports patient care at UF Health.  

Hospitality and service is a state of mind. It starts with the way staff members support and treat each other as colleagues and internal customers. In turn, these relationships create the foundation for how we serve those who trust us with their care. 

The standards are organized in four categories: hospitality, teamwork, communication, and professionalism and responsibility. Each standard promotes specific behaviors, including everything from greeting patients and helping them find their way to practicing active listening and positively supporting colleagues. 

“I know many of you will recognize practices that you already use consistently. But please join me in becoming familiar with all of our new Hospitality and Service Standards and in discovering the many ways we contribute to each other’s goals and success,” Guzick said. “Please make your own promise to follow these standards and create the best possible experience for our patients and for each other.” 

Coming soon…This summer, senior and mid-level leaders from UF Health Shands and the UF College of Medicine will attend UF Health Hospitality and Service Training. Starting this fall, all faculty and staff who provide clinical care or nonclinical support for our UF Health Shands and UF Health Physicians clinical and core programs will be asked to register for training.