There were tentative glances across the conference room table when chief patient experience officer Airica Steed asked a multidisciplinary team of a dozen staffers to discuss the barriers they face in trying to improve the patient experience at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System.
“I want to dig deeply into the concerns we're actually seeing and the roadblocks we're running up against in solving them,” she said during the mid-November meeting.
Steed, the system's first CXO, presented the team with a detailed list of about 40 open patient complaints. It included one about the clinic not returning phone calls to schedule an appointment, a patient walking out of the hospital because the doctor never came to the exam room, and a patient's claim that money disappeared from his wallet during a transfer. Other complaints included alleged medical errors, misdiagnoses and inappropriate staff conduct.
At first, no one spoke. There were sounds of shuffled papers and nervous throat-clearing as the team of patient navigators, patient engagement officers and process improvement and hospitality staff thought carefully about what to say. After an uncomfortable minute, they began to open up.
“We don't get rapid responses from leaders about resolving complaints. Patients want immediate responses and sometimes we wait months,” said one patient engagement officer. Another staffer said some departments either don't take patient complaints seriously or don't understand the role of the team investigating the events.
Since 2012, Steed, a registered nurse with a doctorate in education and a background in operations and performance improvement, has led UI Health's efforts to deliver patient-centered care. The group's initial hesitation to share their concerns was not surprising, she later said. Until recently, front-line employees were rarely engaged by leadership in such conversations, and when staff did speak up, their concerns were often seen as complaints.