The American Hospital Association has adopted a visionary new slogan, but we suggest that providers first concentrate on the fundamentals of caregiving.
The AHA, which used to bill itself as a "national advocate for hospitals and the patients they serve," has become an association of provider organizations "committed to improving the health of their communities."
That's cool. However, the allure of launching a provider-sponsored organization or spearheading a health network shouldn't supersede a hospital's need to improve customer service.
MODERN HEALTHCARE proclaimed 1998 the Year of the Patient and called on hospitals to focus all efforts on the end user. It's pretty clear that efficient health networks excel at medical management. Insurers may do a dandy job of managing money, but provider networks should always outperform them in managing care.
In many ways, the most useful nonclinical service a hospital staff can provide is coordinated case management and a seamless continuum of care. Organizations that do it well begin integrating a patient's care the moment a bed is assigned or an ambulatory procedure is scheduled.
Despite the importance of service fundamentals, we hear too many stories of fumbles when patients are handed off from one caregiver to another. Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, which operates one of the nation's most successful provider-sponsored HMOs, has found ways to improve the process. For example, the system assigns a home-care staffer to meet with surgical patients before their procedures so they can establish a rehabilitation plan. The strategy helps accelerate recovery and builds patient confidence and satisfaction.
Fundamentals, attention to detail and improved communication with patients ultimately will separate the winners from the losers.