How Mount Sinai is improving the patient experience

New York City-based Mount Sinai is looking to new technology this year to streamline care and enhance the patient experience, according to ​​LeWanza Harris, MD. 

Dr. Harris is the vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at Mount Sinai. She recently spoke with Becker's about her goals for 2024, the trends she is following in healthcare and how health systems can improve clinician well-being. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What goals have you set for yourself in 2024?

Dr. LeWanza Harris: For myself, it's really about how we're going to leverage technology to streamline care and make sure we're improving the patient experience. One of our big initiatives that's a part of the hospital readmissions reduction program is how we work with our priority conditions — like congestive heart failure, pneumonia, acute myocardial infarction and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — to make sure that vulnerable populations are not coming back to the hospital unnecessarily. We've been looking at how we can leverage machine learning and algorithms in order to make sure we're identifying these patients accurately so they then can be connected to our transitions of care program and get the necessary [information] they need to make sure these nurses are answering those questions and thus in turn, reduce our readmission rate.

We're also exploring how we may be able to use secure messaging so we can send certain reminders and texts to [patients] to see how they're doing. To me, this is a way of becoming more efficient and making sure we're improving the patient experience while improving quality at the same time.

One of the pushes that I've been doing since my tenure here is how we create the right infrastructure to drive quality and secure safety for our patients. That entailed making sure we had the right infrastructure in place as it related to our department, which is now a system department. We've collaborated with many stakeholders throughout the organization, and one of our key stakeholders involves our physicians. So looking at how we integrate our clinical departments and integrate their clinical department quality infrastructure into our health system quality infrastructure. I believe this is going to lead to better alignment, which results in more shared accountability, capacity building and the sustainability of our efforts.

Q: What are the biggest trends you are following in healthcare today?

LH: [One Is] how we use artificial intelligence and technology to solve problems. Artificial intelligence and technology can really drive improvement. It can help us to reduce costs as well as to optimize opportunity dollars that we may be leaving on the table, and to optimize our efficiencies in the delivery of care we provide.

The other is looking at how we advance equity and quality. There's an interrelatedness of quality, equity, cost and patient experience. So we have to continue to develop strategies that are going to deepen our understanding of the differences or the disparities that we see in our data. That will help us develop innovative solutions to try to solve them.

Q: How do you hope to see the healthcare industry evolve in 2024?

LH: What Covid taught us, which is what we have always known but I think it came to a head then, was the importance of really looking at staff and clinician wellbeing. The fact is our health system runs smoothly because of the people who have the skills and expertise that they lend to take care of our patients. Before we can heal others, we have to make sure we can heal ourselves. So we have to continue to promote an environment where our wellbeing is a priority. I think Mount Sinai has done a great job in doing that at the Center for Stress, Resilience and Personal Growth that was created. I hate to say that it's a trend, but it's something we need to focus more on because we're seeing the vestiges of the pandemic through staffing shortages. We see it in terms of what the priorities are for our residents who are in training, as well as for our physicians and our nursing staff. So how do we build an environment where we're saying, "Look, you need to take a mindfulness moment"?

On my calendar every day, I have 30 minutes that's blocked off and it's called mindfulness. That's an opportunity for me to do whatever. It's really a time for me to recenter and refocus because you have these back-to-back meetings and I need to take a breath. We need to encourage people to use their time to take a break, and it could be five [or] 10 minutes, but I think it's very important so we don't become burned out because burnout is real. I think because of how we're socialized in healthcare, we don't really acknowledge it, but I think we've been doing a great job in doing so of late.

Q: Is it hard to schedule that break into your day?

LH: My assistant does a great job in making sure she moves that around, but there are some days where it does not happen and I can feel it, but I look at my calendar and it is there. It's just a great time for me to take a breath or read something because people are constantly sending me things to review, to comment on that I have to respond to. It could be an hour. It could be 30 minutes. You could put it at the very beginning of the day, in the middle of the day or you can block up some time at the end of your day. It helps you to better disconnect. If you don't have any breaks in the day where you can take the time to think about what it is that you have to do, then you're going to carry all of that home and that leads to further burnout. So scheduling that time is critical. 

The other thing that I do, and I got these tips from this Harvard Business Review article, is that if there are very important tasks that you have to do, put them on your calendar. If I know I need to read something or whatever it may be, I schedule that time on my calendar. I could be looking at other institutions to see what their best practices are ... I think it's unusual for people to hear about you doing that in the daytime. They expect you to take that home or read it on the weekends. I'm at my peak during these hours. Why wouldn't I do that during these hours? So schedule that mindfulness break. Call it what you want to. I know some executives who block out the first couple of hours of the day. That way they can center themselves. They're taking in all the information from all their reports, they're reviewing a lot of data and then they hit the ground running. Whatever works for you is important, but disconnecting is important.

Q: Is enough being done right now to support clinicians?

LH: I think so. Whenever you have any type of crisis [or] conflict that happens, one or two things can happen. Either you do things the same or you change. What we recognized was that we can't do things the same way. We have to change the way we work and we have to be more efficient. We have to be more cognizant of how our colleagues are feeling. I think we've done a great job in really opening those doors for conversations and coming up with concrete plans in terms of, what does it look like when we say, "You need to disconnect"? What does that mean we have to do as leaders, as managers and as your colleagues to make sure you're able to disconnect and take care of yourself? I think it is a journey, and I'm glad that we started that journey because it's really needed because there's so much sensory overload that we have with news and social media. We live in a very busy city in New York City, so you're constantly being overstimulated. So I think we are on the right path and we're only at the very beginning of it. It's great that we're having these conversations.

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