Service with a smile--Sloan initiative helps Weill Cornell neurosurgery raise patient satisfaction.
Subject: Patient satisfaction (Management)
Wellness programs (Service development)
Wellness programs (Management)
Medical colleges (Service introduction)
Nervous system (Surgery)
Nervous system (Service introduction)
Author: Crawford, Franklin
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 39 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 361 Services development; 366 Services introduction Advertising Code: 57 New Products/Services Computer Subject: Company business management; Company service development; Company service introduction
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 266957319
Full Text: Many patients know the frustration of rushing to a doctor's appointment, then sitting in a waiting room as they watch the minutes tick by. Maybe they make it straight to the exam room--rand then wait there without so much as a magazine for distraction. But what if someone popped in and offered them a cup of coffee? Or apologized for the wait, said the doctor was on an emergency call, and offered them a pager so they could take a stroll and get buzzed when it's time for their appointment?

That's the kind of innovative customer service that Sloan Program in Health Administration students, under the direction of associate professor John Kuder, have helped introduce to the Department of Neurological Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC). The partnership was formed in 2008 with a modest goal: putting some hospitality back into the hospital.

"Hospitality isn't limited to a particular industry," said Richard Paddy, WCMC neurological surgery department administrator. "The health care setting is a place where it should exist."

Paddy admits that it's hard to make major invasive procedures, like brain surgery, "hospitable." But between a patient's initial visit and an operation, there are myriad interactions with clinicians and support staff; much can be done to make the journey as pleasant as possible. Hence Paddy's efforts to set a "platinum standard" for patient care with guidance from the College of Human Ecology's Sloan Program and the hospitality gurus at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration.

Weill Cornell doctors in neurological surgery typically see 5,000 new patients a year, of which about 2,000 are surgical cases. The department has 11 surgeons, 10 "physician extenders"--such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants--and 37 support staff. Paddy said that patient feedback on customer service surveys in the past was above average, but not ideal. Since they've introduced the customer service program, however, those surveys are improving.

Kuder and four Sloan students produced a customer service manual for support staff that outlines goals and performance standards. The emphasis is on courtesy at all levels: handling patient phone calls, doing admissions, sending email, and contacting clinicians.

"Our relationship with the Department of Neurological Surgery has been part of Sloan's emphasis on giving our students both a rigorous academic preparation and practical experience solving real health care problems," Kuder said.

In 2009, Sloan graduate Colin Nash '10 spent a summer improving the department's customer service program and collecting data to create performance guidelines for clinicians. Much of his time was dedicated to interviewing medical staff, with a focus on time management, to discover causes of patient lag times in waiting and exam rooms. More Sloan students have since carried forward Nash's work through capstone projects and summer internships. Next up: a plan for a "virtual department" that uses computer and communications technology to meet patient needs.

It's not unusual for neurosurgeons to be called away for emergencies that can derail schedules. To improve the patient experience, the department now offers a "service recovery kit," which might include a voucher for coffee in the cafeteria. For patients whose wait is expected to be lengthy, staff offer a pager; if patients opt to stay, there are games, crosswords, and Sudoku to keep them entertained. "This is truly an innovative program," said Deborah Als, the department's clinical practice manager.

Editor's Note: This article has been adapted from Weill Cornell Medicine magazine.

Colin Nash (left), Sloan 10, who researched ways to improve the patient experience at the WCMC neurological surgery clinic, consults with department administrator Richard Paddy
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.