The Picker Institute, dormant since selling the patient-experience survey tool that defined it, is poised to re-establish itself as an academic and research organization under a new president, with $2 million in grants and a renewed emphasis on promoting patient-centered care delivery.
That includes creating an arm's-length relationship with National Research Corp., the Lincoln, Neb.-based performance measurement company that acquired the Picker survey tool and client list in 2001. Although Picker survived as a not-for-profit corporate organization, its identity had become tied up with for-profit NRC through branded marketing of the survey tool and co-sponsorship of an annual Picker Institute symposium.
Founded in 1987 as an academic research group, Picker gained acclaim in the healthcare industry for new approaches to gauging patient satisfaction, but it eventually stumbled as a contractor gearing up to collect data and produce reports based on its survey methods, said Michael Hays, president and chief executive officer of NRC. After botching its assessment of Massachusetts hospitals in 2000, Picker closed its operations and sold the survey business to NRC for $3.5 million (May 14, 2001, p. 12).
The intervening two years have given the Picker board time to distance itself from what had become a "disproportionate" focus on the patient-survey instrument and return to the broader original goal of founder Harvey Picker to foster a humane, patient-centered care environment, said Mark Waxman, a Picker board member. Waxman is president and general counsel for CareGroup Healthcare System, a four-hospital network based in Boston.
Operating from CareGroup's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the Picker Institute had identified eight dimensions of care prized by patients and had sought to gauge how hospitals measured up to those patient expectations by creating a structured set of questions.
By the mid-1990s, Picker was administering a questionnaire under contract with hospital groups in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and the American Hospital Association became a customer in 1997.
In retrospect, the shift from developing survey tools to managing the survey data-collection effort became more difficult over time, "consumed a disproportionate share of resources" and ultimately dragged down the institute, Waxman said.
Picker maintained its not-for-profit charter, but the Picker name became associated with NRC. Besides continuing to contract for business using the Picker survey tools, NRC became involved in presenting an annual symposium on the patient experience, which Picker had been conducting since the mid-1990s. This year's gathering, July 16-18 in Boston, includes a welcome message by NRC's Hays.
Under the terms of an agreement reasserting Picker's separate role as a think tank for patient-centered care, NRC will contribute $1 million in funding to get the not-for-profit operation going again but will have only an advisory role, Hays said. Waxman said Hays would be "a resource" for the Picker board.
Harvey Picker, still a board member at age 87, will contribute $1 million over three years to fund the organization's re-launch. The hiring of a president and development of a long-range plan to become self-supporting are both in the works, Waxman said.
The new president will help determine the research direction of a renewed effort to promote patient-centered care beyond patient-satisfaction surveys, he said. A summit meeting on patient-centered care in the fall will provide a foundation for a white paper to shape the effort, Waxman said. The institute plans to support itself through revenue from the annual symposium, educational and consulting activities, and money from grants.
Among the board members is Stephen Schoenbaum, senior vice president of the New York-based Commonwealth Fund. The philanthropic organization has a close connection to the Picker family, which founded Picker International, a diagnostic imaging company. In 1986, the Commonwealth Fund received the assets of the James Picker Foundation, and the philanthropy then provided funding to launch the institute.