15 healthcare leaders share daily habits to improve patient experience

Improving patient experience remains a key priority at hospitals and health systems, as it affects every aspect of the organization. 

Becker's Hospital Review asked hospital presidents, COOs and other healthcare leaders to share action steps team members can take each day to improve the patient experience. Read their responses below, presented alphabetically.

Editor's note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Larry Coomes
Chief executive of Queen of the Valley Medical Center (Napa, Calif.)

Be kind to and supportive of their co-workers — happy caregivers make happy patients!

Dave Fikse
President of Mercy Health – Cincinnati

I ask our team to always remember to use the AIDET model of communication to communicate with patients and family:

  • Acknowledge – greet the patient by name and make eye contact
  • Introduction – introduce yourself with your name, certification and experience
  • Duration – provide reasonable time expectations for tests, the doctor's arrival and next steps, if possible, and if not, provide details on when you will update the patient on progress
  • Explanation - explain what to expect next, be prepared to answer questions and make sure the patient knows how to reach you
  • THANK YOU - Thank the patient and family for choosing our services, for their communication and for their support of the staff and each other.

AIDET helps ease anxiety, ensure understanding of the care plan and helps improve outcomes, but it always has to come from the heart!

Valerie Geyer, MSN, RN
Senior director of patient experience at Reading Hospital–Tower Health (West Reading, Pa.)

Look, listen and feel! Listen to the patient and maintain eye contact when you are in conversation. Learn about the patient's expectation and goals. Connect on a personal level by asking them a nonhealthcare-related question, such as, "What do you enjoy doing when you're not in the hospital?" 

Explore their interests and actively listen. Acknowledge their feelings and respond with empathy. Patients often just want to be treated with compassion.

Adam Groshans
President of Mercy Health–Springfield (Ohio)

Demonstrate kindness and genuine compassion. We all move at such a frantic pace that the patient (and family) often feel rushed into processing life-changing information. When we can compassionately connect and sometimes grieve with our patients, we can enhance their overall experience, even in the most difficult times. 

Carla Parker-Hollis
COO of Jersey City (N.J.) Medical Center

As a member of Jersey City Medical Center's executive team, I believe one of the key things we can do to boost the overall patient experience is to round daily on patients. I often find patient interaction to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my leadership role. The ability to connect, to hear their stories, to understand patient needs is compelling.  Even when dealing with a patient complaint or an unhappy family member, leaders need to be engaged and available in real time.  It is equally important for our caregiving team members to know they have the support of leadership. We are here for our patients, connecting with them is at the heart of what we do.

Dermot O'Doherty
Vice president of consumer experience at Centura Health (Centennial, Colo.) 

The journey from a prospective patient to a loyal and lifetime engaged one can be arduous. However, first impressions count, and one way to boost your overall experience with prospective patients is through your online, or digital, presence. Your website is your digital brand flagship and should accurately reflect who you are, what you do, and when and how you do it. Your website should easily and intuitively lead you to find the right care, get an estimate, schedule an appointment and pay your bill. Your business citations and provider directory listings must be accurate — hours of operation, services you provide, phone and directions.  More simply put, the one thing team members can do each day is ensure their digital presence contains accurate and precise content and data that is trustworthy, usable and actionable for patients and their loved ones.

Diana Richardson
COO of Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children (Boston)

It is so important for everyone on the team to stop and listen to each individual patient. Ask "what questions do you have?" instead of "do you have any questions?" Sometimes in healthcare, we are so focused on the clinical care of our patients, we forget to ask what's most important to each person as an individual — it may be space for a family member to stay, providing extra explanations about medications, making sure the discharge plan addresses how they can safely care for a pet, or even being positioned so they can see more natural light. Our patients are less anxious when we address what's meaningful to each individual. At Tufts Medical Center, we live by the mantra "always thinking ahead" to thoughtfully anticipate what each patient will need based on what is important to her/him. 

Manny Rodriguez
chief marketing, experience and customer officer for UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.)

Improving our patients' experience, in a real and personal way, is one of our top priorities. It's important for team members to always listen and be present in the moment when interacting with patients, caregivers and visitors. This seems like it might be a minor thing or straightforward concept to keep in mind to do each and every day, but it goes a long way in impacting patient experience. Patients remember the positive experiences they have throughout their visit or inpatient stay. We underscore to all our employees that no matter what their roles or functions are, they are critical to each patient’s experience, every day.  

Eugene Scioscia, MD
chief experience officer for Allegheny Health Network (Pittsburgh)

There's a lot we can do. One thing I suggest to colleagues is that they always remember to "bring their human to work." They can do this by focusing on "micro behaviors," particularly those which enhance empathy and compassion — making eye contact, paying attention to the tone of one's voice, sitting rather than standing when talking to a patient, and so on. We can also work to stay in tune with our emotional intelligence through several behaviors and habits: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and compassion, and social skills. And when all else fails, I have a simple rule — just be kind.

Ghazala Sharieff, MD
Corporate vice president and chief experience officer for Scripps Health (San Diego)

At Scripps Health, we have rolled out our "one thing different" initiative. Rather than us telling our front-line employees what to do, we empower them to choose to do just one thing different from what they are already doing to help their patients.

The concept came from a patient I took care of many years ago. I decided to ask a simple question of my patients: "What is your greatest concern?" 

One of the first patients I asked this of was a 7-year-old who presented with alternating leg pain and high fevers for a week and a half. He had been seen at three different emergency departments across town, and each time an X-ray was taken of the affected limb and the family was told that the X-ray was normal, and that they should follow up with their pediatrician. 

My turn came on their fourth visit. I could easily have sent them to their pediatrician, as the child had no fever or leg pain when I saw him, but I asked the grandmother what her greatest concern was. 

She said, "I'm worried he has cancer." 

That made me pause for thought, and I said, "Let's get a blood test." 

Sure enough, that child had leukemia, and I would have been the fourth physician to miss the diagnosis had it not been for my "one thing different."

Kevin Vermeer
President and CEO at UnityPoint Health (West Des Moines, Iowa)

It sounds simple, but treat patients as people. Get to know them, ask questions, anticipate their needs. Take an interest in who they are and what they want. For us, it's all about showing people how much they matter, in big and small ways — alongside providing an exceptional care experience. We want the people and communities we serve to know that we see them, and we're here to support them — no matter what.

Juliya Volansky                
Patient experience administrator in Montefiore Health System's radiology department (Bronx, N.Y.)

Conducting daily staff huddles for about 10 minutes gives an opportunity to come together as a team. During the huddle, the team can discuss any patient experience issues and ways to improve. This also offers an excellent opportunity to read a few positive patient comments and motivate the team for a successful day.

Daily patient rounding is one of the most important ways to engage with our patients and give them updates. It also provides an opportunity for patients to ask questions.

Alpa Vyas
Vice president of patient experience at Stanford (Calif.) Health Care 

To me, the single most important thing that myself as a leader and team members working in the healthcare environment can do or bring forward every day is bringing forward this notion of empathy and compassion. 

And compassion is basically empathy in action.

What does this look like in the day-to-day? Somebody might be looking for directions, for example, to a place on our campus. It's one thing to be nice and offer a written direction or a map, but if it's something we can do, wouldn't it be better if we could actually walk them to that location? 

Another thing we talk about is closing the loop. If I were on the other side of a phone call or on the other side of a check-in desk, what would I want to happen for me? Hopefully, that also instills this notion of empowerment for our frontline employees and providers that they feel they can go that extra step to help patients and families.

Michael Yungmann
President of Mercy Health – Paducah and Irvine (Ky.)

Project calmness, warmth and eagerness to listen — however one is comfortable exhibiting genuine concern.  It only takes a moment to stop being "busy" and to focus on connecting on a personal level.

Joan Zoltanski, MD
chief experience officer at University Hospitals (Cleveland)

The most impactful behavior that team members can do to impact the patient experience is to listen first. When we stop and listen before we talk, we have the opportunity to help patients feel heard, validate their feelings and then help them with their specific needs, instead of assuming what their needs may be. This way, we can help provide great care in a way that engages rather than directs – which is much more effective.


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