Why UCSF Health's patient initiatives don't feel like the flavor of the month

Susan Pappas, division director, UCSF Health experience excellence at University of California San Francisco Health, discusses the importance of being able to scale experience initiatives, the benefits of adopting Lean philosophy and why excellent patient experience requires commitment from the entire organization.

Editor's Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What is the most important lesson you have learned about delivering excellent patient experience?

Susan Pappas: The two most important lessons I have learned about delivering excellent patient experiences in my 35-year career is first, they must be deliberately designed into the cultural fabric of the organization and secondly, it takes the entire village to create them. Excellent patient experiences do not happen by chance. It takes an organizational commitment from the top down to make this a priority for everyone. There must be a commitment to high standards of behavior, patient-centered practices, recognition systems and a culture of continuous improvement to ensure patients receive the excellent experiences they desire and deserve.

Q: What are some common missteps hospitals make in their patient experience initiatives?

SP: Some of the common missteps healthcare organizations make in their patient experience initiatives are not having them aligned with the global organizational goals and not having the bandwidth/resources/budgetary means to scale them across the organization once they find success with them. Some efforts end up feeling like the flavor of the month or year and lose traction once the regular monitoring of that effort weakens.

Organizations that do not consider the continuum of care fall victim to creating inconsistency in the patient experience. Patients often travel though many different areas within the healthcare system [where] they seek their care. When one area pays detailed attention to how they treat and care for their patients, yet another area pays little attention, patients, unfortunately, feel the difference.

Q: What has been the most successful patient experience initiative at your organization?

SP: I would say the initiative having the highest degree of success and deep cultural change at UCSF Health is our Lean transformation journey we began over five years ago. UCSF made a strong investment in adopting the Lean philosophy and to introducing True North boards, problem-solving thinking, active daily management through regular huddles with staff that have positively catapulted our patient experience outcomes.

Every day our staff are engaged in problem-solving discussions that are influencing and enhancing the experiences of their patients. Our CEO and entire executive leadership regularly attend True North rounds across our entire organization to get a bird's-eye view of the strong work supporting improvement in the patient experience pillar. Consistency and reliability in practice is our ultimate goal.

I am proud to say our UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights as well as our Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco hospitals scored 93rd and 98th respectively in the Press Ganey national database in percentile ranking for the last three years in a row now. For an academic institution, that is an enormous achievement.

Q: What excites you most about the future of your role?

SP: The collaborative nature in which leaders throughout our organization are banding together to strengthen all of our efforts around quality, safety and patient experience. There will always be a need for a patient experience strategic champion to amplify the voice of our patient's experiences within our organization. I see my role as the constant catalyst and change agent that holds the privilege and burden of bringing awareness as well as conscience to humanizing the healthcare experience in positive ways.

More articles on patient engagement:
Helping patients feel whole: Q&A with AdventHealth CXO Pam Guler
Lurie Children's nurse raises funds to donate gaming devices to patients
It's not all about the patient, Vidant Health CXO says 

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