Experience, as the saying goes, is the best teacher. To improve service, managers and caregivers at one Chicago hospital wanted to get a better feel for the patient experience at their facilities.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a 642-bed academic medical center in downtown Chicago, had opened a new hospital in May 1999. It wasn't just any new urban teaching hospital. It was a 2 million-square-foot, $580 million facility that combined 22 buildings into two, a medical center some jealously called "the Taj Mahal on the lake."
"We wanted to be a healthcare leader and knew we couldn't rest on our laurels," says Nick Rave, Northwestern's director of professional services who directed the hospital's "Best Patient Experience Pilot Project."
"We knew the new facility alone wouldn't be enough, he says. "We challenged ourselves to see if we could make this beautiful hospital improve the patient experience."
So even before the move took place, officials planned to emphasize service. Six months after the move, Northwestern began laying the groundwork for the patient experience project, officially launched in August 2000.
Rave says the goal was to understand the needs of patients and families from their perspective, to approach their interactions with the hospital like detectives, to chronicle and dissect the experience by seeing and doing what patients do.
That approach landed Northwestern the Sodexho award for patient service.
To test the project, leaders selected Northwestern's eighth floor, which includes diagnostic services for both inpatients and outpatients and hosts 240,000 patients annually. The heavily utilized floor houses numerous departments and straddles Northwestern's two main buildings, and it already had received high patient-satisfaction scores.
Rave took the management teams from the eighth floor on a tour of the entire facility, looking for processes that could be streamlined or weren't patient-friendly. The project team also used Press, Ganey Associates' patient-satisfaction surveys and also conducted its own face-to-face interviews with patients and their families.
What they learned is still being applied. For example, officials are adjusting departmental staffing schedules and clinic hours to improve patient convenience. One goal was next-day availability for routine outpatient appointments, so Northwestern extended its hours in some areas.
"Patient satisfaction didn't just focus on what patients wanted, but when they wanted it," Rave says.