Patients don't see silos: Northwell nurse leader on shaping experiences

With few exceptions, having to go to the hospital is not at the top of any individual's to-do list. However, long after the pain is gone and sutures have healed, patients remember how they were treated.

"Healthcare is a highly individualized and emotional experience. In order to deliver on the expressed and unexpressed needs of those we serve, leaders must commit to providing world-class service and patient-centeredness, one that honors the human spirit and fosters personalized care," Agnes Barden, DNP, RN, deputy chief experience officer at New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, told Becker's.

Patients and their families view hospitals as one "healthcare ecosystem," she said, and not by departments or silos — the way healthcare workers often describe their workplaces.

"Patient experience is the totality of all interactions such as quality measures, safety protocols, clinical competence, communication, compassion and care delivery processes," Dr. Barden said. For this reason, leaders in the hospital must work together to provide a collective positive experience.

An example at Northwell is the healthcare system's focus on patients' experience at mealtimes. Hiring world-class chefs and moving from frozen and processed food to fresh recipes are steps that have earned rave reviews from patients on Press Ganey satisfaction surveys.

"Northwell has been an industry leader in its novel approach to redesigning hospital food delivery," Dr. Barden said. "Valuing food as care, the patient experience performance measure, 'Quality of Food' has improved by over 70 percentile rank points within six years."

In addition to creating a favorable reputation in the community, offering patients an experience they are happy to tell people about goes a long way to attracting top talent, she added, noting healthcare professionals who hear that patients have had a good experience helps to "validate" that a healthcare system is a place they may want to work.

Editor's note: The following responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: As a patient experience leader, what do you wish other hospital C-suite leaders understood when it comes to providing great patient experiences?

Dr. Agnes Barden: Leadership drives experience. Hospital C-suite teams must collectively define and consistently role model their mission, vision and values. Ultimately, their actions will define their organizational culture. Bottom line, every leader contributes and impacts the experience patients, families and communities receive. Patient experience has evolved to be a key driver for hospitals and must be prioritized accordingly.

Q: How are you working to make sure that nothing overshadows patient experience goals?

AB: Healthcare is constantly evolving and changing. Leaders must be aware, flexible, adaptable and optimistic to this reality because it is what inspires innovation and excellence. Expect the unexpected because no day is ever the same and we can never fully prepare for what comes through our doors. 

At Northwell Health, we have been on a cultural transformation and have created interdisciplinary programming that focuses on caring for ourselves, caring for our teams and caring for our patients and families. Critical to this mindset is empathetic communication skills and relationship building. Teamwork is key and leadership is responsible for creating an environment of presence, active listening, check-ins, peer support and proactive assistance. 

What is important to remember is that patient experience is not something healthcare professionals do in addition to their work; it is the core of their work. Every interaction we have with patients and families is an opportunity to demonstrate a kind and caring attitude, behavior and engagement. Despite having multiple priorities and a complex patient census, we must never forget to keep the patient and family at the center of all we do.

Q: You mentioned Northwell's goals for a patient-centered culture. How do you actively encourage that culture to grow?

AB: Overall, we have a robust listening strategy to obtain and leverage the "voice" of patients and families. Besides personal conversations, letters, surveying methodologies and online analysis, Northwell continues to develop and nurture Patient & Family Partnership Councils. These dynamic forums invite diverse patients and families to sit alongside healthcare leaders, providers, and team members to share their unique perspective, insights and guidance because their synergistic partnership is critical to designing the healthcare of tomorrow.

Q: What are the benefits for the hospital of providing a good patient experience?

AB: With consumerism and transparency at the forefront, patient experience continues to be a strategic focus for many healthcare organizations. With publicly reported data, social media and traditional word-of-mouth, hospitals strive to maintain excellence in all major facets of care delivery, inclusive of patient experience. 

The goal is to have a strong and positive reputation, locally and nationally, to build brand awareness and customer loyalty. For example, in New York's Westchester County, two Northwell hospitals, Northern Westchester Hospital and Phelps Hospital, are revered by the communities they serve for their unbridled commitment to person-centered care. Prioritizing and embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion into the fabric of their organization, patients and families often reflect on how impactful receiving customized, empathic and seamless care was throughout their journey. 

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