Balancing Excellence with Empathy

LIJ made a critical cultural transformation that emphasized hospitality, teamwork and creating a better environment for patients and families.

Sometimes, the truth hurts.

Despite LIJ Medical Center’s good clinical outcomes, most discharged patients in 2009 and 2010 said they would not recommend the hospital to a friend or family member. LIJ ranked between the 8th and 11th percentiles nationally in Press Ganey patient surveys’ “Likelihood to Recommend” category. In 2011, LIJ dropped to the 6th percentile.

Administrators saw that change was needed. If LIJ continued in the same manner, it risked losing patients and significant reimbursements through HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ incentive program.

The analysis of the problem was pretty straightforward, said Agnes Barden, RN, DNP, North Shore-LIJ’s assistant vice president of patient and customer experience. “We weren’t consistently engaged with each other, or the patient and their family members,” she said. “We needed a cultural transformation of the patient experience.”

The health system’s chief experience officer, Sven Gierlinger, agreed that change was essential. “We are in competition for the customers’ attention and satisfaction and there is a need to meet their expectations. That requires us to provide patients with improved access, response times and a new provider-patient relationship,” he said. “That means we need to reinvent ourselves and offer new delivery mechanisms, staff education and communication tools to meet those expectations.”

Led by Chantal Weinhold, senior vice president and executive director of North Shore-LIJ’s central region, LIJ collaborated with an organization called Hospitality Quotient to make that critical cultural turnaround.

All 5,000 LIJ staff members were required to participate in health care hospitality-specific training in 2012 and again in 2014.

“We emphasized hospitality, teamwork and creating a better environment for the patient and family experience, rather than focus on survey scores,” Dr. Barden explained.

Augmenting this training is a recognition program that includes a Hospitality Observation Team, a group of staff members who observe colleagues throughout the hospital. The team anonymously rewards employees for exceptional patient experience and follows up on anything that needs improvement.

LIJ maintains a database of letters, emails and praise from patients and patient families, Dr. Barden said. Staff members who provide outstanding hospitality attend a “Breakfast with the Stars” with their supervisors and LIJ leadership.

The emphasis on hospitality has been important in turning LIJ’s scores around. Most recently, the hospital’s Press Ganey ranking was in the 68th percentile, a major upturn.

“Next to the outcome, the most important thing — what keeps people coming back to LIJ when they need care — is how we treat patients and family,” Dr. Barden said. “Excellent care is essential. But excellent, compassionate care is frequently what distinguishes us for the patient and family. It’s what sets us apart.” 

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