3 Sure-Fire Ways to Kill a Patient-Centered Culture

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Do a search online for "patient-centered culture" and you'll see more than two million results! It's no surprise that in an era of impending healthcare reform, rising costs and increasing consumer demand, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are working hard to ensure that their cultures support a strong patient experience. The problem is that it takes more than good intentions and hard work to make it so. In our work with healthcare organizations around the country, we see a lot of issues that hinder hospitals' abilities to provide a solid culture. Here are just three sure-fire ways to kill a patient-centered culture, things that we see far too often.

1. Talking about patient-centeredness as a priority, and then never speaking about it again. Hospital leaders across the country list "being patient-centered" as a top priority for reasons ranging from concern over reputation, the impact of social media or HCAHPS reimbursement. There is no doubt that the environment today has moved the patient experience front and center for healthcare organizations around the country. The problem is that it takes more than talking about priorities to realize real change. It takes real action. What to do instead:

Another key point: Don’t "hide out." If senior leaders are spending too much time in their offices and not enough time out among the rank and file — and the patients — they're inadvertently sending signals that they just don't care. These signals are loud and clear and often more impactful than the formal messages that you're sending through other channels. Walk the talk! How to make it real:

2. Watch your finance focus.
Yes, even not-for-profit organizations need a positive return on investment to continue to provide quality care. But if finances are your number one point of focus and discussion every time you open your mouth, what kind of message are you sending? Avoid making finances the first topic of discussion. Instead, create a patient-focused culture by focusing on the care- and experience-related issues that ultimately impact not only the patient experience, but also your bottom line. Studies continually show that focusing on your employees, results in a more positive patient experience — which, of course, will ultimately impact your financial success. For example:

Of course, we don't really need formal studies to tell us what is intuitively apparent. When our employees are happy and engaged, they, innately, provide better experiences, in more positive and supportive environments for our patients. It's not rocket science. Yet, too often, in ways that range from the subtle to the outrageous, we send signals that serve to hinder those interactions.

3. Make it the flavor of the month.
Establishing a patient-centered culture is not a "program;" it's an ongoing initiative that often involves significant culture change. Too often, organizations will talk about patient-centeredness as a program or an initiative. To employees this translates into "the flavor of the month." They'll think: "Okay, I've lived through a lot of these things; if I can just keep my head down long enough, this will all go away." Instead, you need to ensure that your efforts are viewed, not as one-off programs, but as meaningful culture change. You need to do away with the program mentality and make patient-centeredness part of the fabric of the organization. Doing this will send a strong message in support of your mission to care for people. To ensure success:

Healthcare organizations around the country, and their staff, are very concerned about providing positive patient experiences. That's why many (if not most) of them chose healthcare careers. Unfortunately, though, barriers get in the way of ensuring that a culture of patient-centeredness is created, maintained and sustained over time. Yes, it takes time; it takes effort, and it takes ongoing focus and commitment. But, ultimately those efforts pay off — for patients, for staff, for the organization and, quite honestly, for all of us. We are all, at some level and at some point in time, healthcare consumers. Taking steps to ensure the care experience that we all wish for ourselves and our families is a good starting point for turning culture around in the right direction — and sustaining the gains that we achieve.

With over thirty years of experience in patient care, healthcare marketing, business development and administration, Kristin Baird is a talented speaker and consultant with a passion for service excellence. President of the Baird Group, Ms. Baird earned a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master's in health services administration from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.

More Articles From Kristin Baird:

Taking Service Excellence From Smile Lessons to Core Strategy
Health Reform in 2013: What's Happened, What's Left & What it Means for Providers

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