Like many other hospitals, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has relied for years on the results of annual patient surveys to evaluate its services. But recently, administrators found themselves growing frustrated with the dry data. They felt they needed a more timely and personal window on how they were-or were not-meeting their customers' needs.
"More than 70% of our patients have chronic diseases," explained Jeffrey Rivest, the hospital's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "We realized that the people who can tell us the most are the ones who are here every week."
Based on this philosophy, the 304-bed teaching hospital created its Family Faculty Program, which won the Marriott Service Excellence Award in the Vision category. Now in its second year, the program is designed so that parents of patients actually teach administrators and doctors about their children's lives and the role the hospital plays in them.
The program has grown from six to eight participating parents, who have made more than 50 presentations to hundreds of new employees, medical residents, physicians and medical students. The eight children of those parents require regular hospital visits to monitor and treat their diseases, which include diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and cancer.
Before leading their first discussion, the parents learned about the hospital's mission and what it's like attending medical school and becoming a practicing physician.
"We would never ask the families to empathize with the doctors, but in order to give a good talk they must understand the physicians' world," said Robin Heller, the hospital's director of family relations.
The parents typically open their sessions by passing around a picture of their child to soften the dialogue and help the audience identify with them, Rivest said. The parents then spend about half an hour describing both the positive and negative aspects of their child's experience at the hospital.
They relate how they felt when they were hearing about their child's diagnosis for the first time. They also may talk about their experiences with emergency room personnel or the outpatient admissions staff. A half-hour question-and-answer period follows.
Rivest calls the less-than-$25,000-a-year program "one of those low-cost ideas that has big returns." While the program provides parents with a constructive way to help improve the quality of their child's care, the hospital can learn lessons that it can apply to all patients. "It's a powerful partnership," he said.
The single biggest change in the hospital since the program began has been cultural, Rivest noted. Doctors and other hospital personnel have begun to stop thinking of themselves as the authorities on the children's welfare.
"It's really the parents who are the integrators of care for their children," he said. "They're seeing the child's disease and life in a much broader context. The more you listen to a parent, the better you can structure a plan for the child's life."
Michele Lloyd, the hospital's assistant vice president for family services and quality resources, said the hospital plans to bring families further into its care continuum. She said the hospital already has hired one family faculty member to serve full time as a "family consultant" and plans to open a family resource center.
"We're recognizing that the family is the constant in the child's life," she said. "This is different from the way most of us have practiced healthcare. We need to strive to understand families and how they fit in."