Quinton "Quint" Studer has been called a missionary and an evangelist for zealously preaching customer service as the cornerstone philosophy of a successful healthcare organization.
But Studer, 48, president and chief executive officer of 492-bed Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., understands that one man can't change an organization.
"It takes a team effort," says Studer, whose hospital also won the VHA Leadership Award and the Sodexho Marriott Service Excellence Award, both in 1997.
Baptist has demonstrated, Studer says, that improving customer service can affect risk-management strategies as well.
Last year, more than 800 hospital executives traveled to Pensacola from 32 states to witness the gospel in action, Studer reports. The hospital has distilled its corporate customer-satisfaction philosophy into a two-day seminar.
If any organization needed a strong dose of pick-me-up, it was Baptist, where patient satisfaction with service and care hovered in the 35th percentile and dipped below the 10th percentile in a January 1996 survey of 460 hospitals by Press, Ganey & Associates of South Bend, Ind.
In 1995, Baptist faced 60 costly malpractice suits and paid more than $200,000 in settlements. And it wasn't just the patients who were disgruntled. Employee turnover aggravated a deteriorating morale problem after a proposed merger with 520-bed Sacred Heart Hospital of Pensacola fizzled.
But the hospital's renewed focus on customer satisfaction paid off within a year.
Customer satisfaction skyrocketed to the 98th percentile in 1997, placing Baptist second in the country among 600 surveyed by Press, Ganey. Costly malpractice suits dropped to 20 in 1998 with a payout of $23,000, and only four have been filed so far this year. Inpatient revenues were 14% higher in 1998 than in the previous year. Employee turnover fell 18% in one year, admissions increased 9.3%, and Baptist's share of a highly competitive Pensacola market rose 3.5% to 33.7%.
Studer arrived at Baptist Hospital, part of Pensacola-based Baptist Health Care Corp., in June 1996 from Chicago's 299-bed Holy Cross Hospital, where he served as senior vice president and chief operating officer from 1993 to 1996. He says that was where he first applied his theories on patient and employee satisfaction.
Studer says that when he arrived, Baptist was like most good community hospitals. "We were made up of decent human beings who wanted to make a difference," he says. "Sometimes, though, with the external pressures of the marketplace, it's easy to get away from the basics of patient care."
That, in a nutshell, is what happened at Baptist, he says.
"I came right after merger talks had fallen apart," he recalls.
Studer says it was a time when staff morale was low. The hospital had always measured employee satisfaction, so it gave him a baseline from which to launch his program.
"My gut feeling is there is a direct correlation between how employees feel about hospitals and patient care and satisfaction. Employee satisfaction is very much like customer satisfaction. We used that information like a clinical diagnostic tool."
Studer says the hospital began the turnaround with a simple commitment to honesty and mission.
"There would be no more secrets. All information would be shared. We feel we have established a strong 'no secrets' culture," Studer says. "Employees see the same financials as the board of directors sees."
In the following months, Studer gathered leaders to create what he calls a "real built-to-last" culture. That included relocating the administrator's office to the hospital's busiest corridor. There was a mandate to complete employee evaluations on time. Key information was posted throughout the hospital. "Wow" teams, consisting of department managers and employees, organized to reward employee successes, such as achievement of goals, money-saving suggestions or innovations in care delivery.
"As a management team our job is to create a culture to maximize employee skills," Studer says. "We work for the employees. And that can be seen and experienced by our patients."
He says the efforts have borne fruit. For example, nursing turnover dropped to 13% this year from 30% in 1996, he says, noting that it cost $13,500 to train each new nurse. "That alone has saved us $675,000 annually," he says.
He says over the past three years employees have submitted suggestions related to planning and operations that have resulted in savings of more than $3.6 million.
Studer says the hospital's increased market share led Moody's Investors Service to raise its bond rating earlier this year to AAA from BBB+, which he says will save $1.8 million in annual interest costs.
For years, Studer remembers, hospitals didn't invest in the training of their staffs. "I was guilty of it, and I was wrong," he acknowledges. "Middle managers are the lubricant of the healthcare system. Now I'm a born-again hospital administrator."
Studer says hospital executives who have visited and studied Baptist's program have returned to make a difference in their hospitals. At the seminars, Studer is introduced as a fire-starter who tries to spark a passion for improved patient and employee satisfaction.
He says this year Baptist will spend $350,000 to develop and train its executives and managers. It budgets $10 per employee for reward and recognition programs and $20,000 for miscellaneous employee programs.
Risk Management Awards judge Robert Chapman, M.D., chairman and CEO of Lakeland, Fla.'s Watson Clinic, says Baptist "provided actual data that their customer service decreased employee turnover and reduced lawsuits. It's a comprehensive program that cuts across organizational lines."