Arlington Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington has every reason to be proud as a peacock. It was the only hospital in the Washington Metropolitan region, and one out of 332 in the nation, to receive the Healthgrades 2012 Outstanding Patient Experience Award.
According to Dr. Archelle Georgio, a physician consultant for Healthgrades, the scores for the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) — a 27-item national standardized and publicly reported survey that measures patients’ perceptions of their hospital experience — are considered in evaluating the candidates for this award. Hospitals had to have at least 100 survey responses submitted to be eligible for this award. “VHC was competing against all hospitals in the country. They should be extremely proud of it,” Georgio said.
In the healthcare arena, the important focal point is on the patient experience. “It really starts at the beginning — hiring the right people. The hiring process is a very thorough evaluation of the potential employee,” said Dr. Jeffrey DiLisi, vice president and chief medical officer. Only those people who do well in all parts of the process are hired. The hospital has a set of “anchors” that are 12 models/ expectations of behavior that were developed by staff. In efforts to match the employees to the organization, their selection is also weighed against the anchors.
“What is unique is the process we go through to find the right people. It’s the feel as soon as you walk in,” said Adrian Stanton, vice president and chief marketing officer. Part of the interview process includes a peer interview in which a potential candidate may meet with a manager on the floor to determine if there is a good fit. “The hiring process is a very thorough evaluation of the potential employees. Only people who do well in all parts of the process are hired. The peer interview process — that’s huge. If they don’t pass the peer interview, it’s done,” Stanton said.
Included in the hospital’s vision statement and vital to the sentiment of the Outstanding Patient Experience Award are the stated goals of providing the highest quality clinical care, achieving the highest levels of patient satisfaction, and serving the healthcare needs of the community. “It’s important in getting everyone on the same page. We take patient satisfaction scores very seriously. We see them as the voice of the patient. These are the perceptions of the quality of care given. If there are weaknesses in an area, we try to address them right away,” DeLisi said.
“People come with their personalities and expectations. No one truly looks forward to being in the hospital. We meet patients where they are. We develop individual plans of care around that. We can’t bring our expectations to them,” said Darlene Vrotsos, chief nursing officer. Vrotsos emphasized it is important to have the right attitude, education and awareness, and the right tools in place. The key elements that embrace having the right people in place include anticipating patients’ needs, effective communication, and constantly rounding on patients.
One of the systems in place is a “Quality Hotline” where patients, family members, or staff can pick up a telephone, dial a special number, and the operator will put in their concern or request. A text message subsequently goes out on the pager system to the executive team and the rest of the hospital. The appropriate person is then deployed by the leadership team to address the issue or fix the problem. “We actually built in the attitude, the customer service approach, and the systems support,” Vrotsos said.
“We stay very open and transparent. We try to be very inclusive at every level. Every single employee has an impact on a patient or a patient’s experience with us. We stress the vital importance of volunteers and all staff and engage staff around the right goals. This hospital has asked a lot to meet that experience. We work very hard to get it right. I believe the majority of our staff takes that to heart,” Stanton said.
Charley Conrad, a former patient at VHC, echoes the sentiment of the Outstanding Patient Experience Award. “The level of care was phenomenal. I was treated royally. It was very, very positive,” Conrad said. He praised the customer service and applauded the high level of respect he received from all staff — from patient care to patient validation. “The nurses kept me constantly informed. It was incredible,” Conrad said.
Karen L. Bune is a freelance writer. She serves as an adjunct professor at Marymount University and is a nationally recognized public speaker.