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How to Engage Your Senior Team in Patient-Centered Care

December 30, 2015


ThinkstockPhotos-492943492.jpgDuring a recent webinar on the role of emotional intelligence in physician success, patient outcomes, and organizational success, I fielded two questions from the audience about how you get a healthcare senior team to recognize the importance of provider behavioral skills in the patient experience.

Then I was talking to a system CEO who told me that while on a panel at a patient experience conference, she fielded several similar questions. She had mid-level managers asking how they can convince their senior leaders that patient-centered care is not only important, but that it should be driving their entire culture and strategies.

Wait a minute. We are still getting these questions? That makes me nervous. First, because I’m not sure there’s a good answer to the question. More importantly, because it’s shocking that anyone in a hospital, today, has any question about whether their senior team is really bought into the concepts of both patient-centered care, and the idea that behaviors, of physicians, nurses, and front-line staff are at the heart of the patient experience.

No doubt many organizations are led by senior leaders who appreciate that the care delivery model, and the entire business of healthcare, need to be built around the patient. This concept is not just a nice thing to include in the mission statement, but should drive every strategic and tactical decision. The fact that anyone is asking these questions means that some leadership teams still don’t get it or, at least, aren’t effective it communicating it to their teams.

Our webinar was about providing physicians with tools to understand how their behaviors impact the patient experience, patient outcomes, and organizational and their own success. It was an interesting panel discussion but, I’m sure, we took for granted, the idea that everyone knows this stuff is important – until I saw this question come through the webinar:

“Can you comment on the importance of the leadership and culture in the institution to drive the process. without a just institutional culture, these types of initiatives are not really possible. In fact, they are dangerous.”

This implies that at least at one organization, leadership has not embraced, or at least communicated, the importance of a culture that has, at its heart, the right mission or strategy. This person actually said that it would be “dangerous” to introduce these concepts – implying that the culture is so bad that trying to open the dialogue about a patient-centered culture that values provider behaviors which engage patients in their care, etc, etc. – would be harmful!

I don’t know how prevalent this problem is. I meet hospital leadership teams every day, that get it. But I certainly run across a few who don’t – these teams are so mired in finances, organizational politics, tradition, resistance to change and denial, that they can’t imagine how to re-shape their world. The fact that we still get this question from caring, motivated staff who want to move their organization in the right direction is, to say the least, disconcerting.

I have no idea what the answer is and I’m open to ideas. How does the middle of the organization push the senior team in the right direction? Can any organization change from the middle? I might have to say, “no”? If the people responsible for setting the vision, don’t get it, then the organization has a real problem, and that senior team doesn’t really understand the challenge and what we are trying to accomplish. I suppose that we can start by challenging Boards, Trustees and those entrusted with putting the people in place, to fulfill the mission, to challenge their top people to demonstrate how they are living the mission, every day, and to engage managers and front line staff. Their perceptions and level of engagement will tell the true story. They interact with patients every day and know whether the organization has embraced a truly patient-centered culture.

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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren was the former Director of Healthcare Solutions at PSI. He was responsible for developing and promoting tools and services designed specifically for the unique challenges faced by healthcare organizations.