The best and longest-lasting institutional changes seem to come slowly, deliberately and incrementally. Healthcare leaders directing such changes also understand that improvements seldom happen by chance.
Improving the rate at which women in a community receive mammograms; reducing the "sleepless nights" for nervous women awaiting breast biopsy results; defining and instilling a culture of customer satisfaction; and viewing the patient experience through the eyes of a patient were the winning entries in the ninth annual Sodexho healthcare service excellence awards.
The winning initiatives required a lot of planning, cooperation and teamwork. They also involved shaking up the status quo within organizations, creating new departmental relationships and unfamiliar lines of communication. But, according to contest judges, the results are striking.
"I thought all the proposals were well-thought-out," says Owen Bailey, president and chief executive officer of 150-bed Thomas Hospital in Fairhope, Ala., and a judge for the Sodexho awards. "I was impressed by the high level of creativity in the proposals and the wide diversity of ideas represented. Healthcare is a very local product. But we found common threads in these proposals we believe could be applied almost anywhere."
Kristine Peterson, a Chicago senior vice president at Atlanta-based customer relationship management company Greystone.Net, coordinated the competition for Sodexho and says this year's entries closely examined facets of healthcare delivery seeking ways to improve the process. "I was really pleased to see these organizations looking at healthcare holistically and thinking outside of the box," Peterson says.
The competition, which drew 66 entries, has four categories: vision, patient service, internal service and values integration. Some hospitals and health systems submitted multiple projects in multiple categories. Each winning entry receives $5,000 to be divided between the sponsoring organization and its project team leaders.
* Bristol (Conn.) Hospital won the award in the vision category for its "Bristol Community Breast Health Project," which undertook the difficult task of raising awareness and changing behavior in the community of 65,000. Project leaders succeeded in boosting the percentage of local women who got annual mammograms to nearly 80% from 47% over three years, far exceeding the state's average of 65%.
* Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital won in the patient service category for its "Best Patient Experience Pilot Project." That project was designed to view the patient experience through a patient's eyes and redefine hospital-care processes and practices with an eye toward simplification and improvement.
* Elkhart (Ind.) General Healthcare System, parent of Elkhart General Hospital, won the award in the internal service category. The hospital set out to ease the stress and uncertainly of awaiting a cancer diagnosis through its "No Longer Sleepless in Elkhart Project." The program examined and streamlined its process for determining a breast cancer diagnosis and informing patients, reducing the waiting time for patients and easing their emotional pain.
* MidState Medical Center in Meriden, Conn., won the values integration award for its "Values and Behaviors Action Group" effort. In the early 1990s two Meriden hospitals merged to form MidState, marrying different organizational cultures. The values group sought first to define the merged hospitals' new culture, build a vision of customer service from the bottom up, and keep MidState focused on patient satisfaction.
The winning organizations also reported improved patient-satisfaction scores in surveys conducted by Press, Ganey Associates. The South Bend, Ind.-based firm conducts patient-satisfaction surveys for about a quarter of the nation's hospitals with more than 100 beds.
The award-winning programs, some of which were piloted in a single hospital department, have spread throughout the hospitals and even to sister facilities. Some of the organizations are sharing their knowledge with other hospitals and healthcare systems.