Few business initiatives are more vital than this: helping employees to be customer-focused.

At Indiana University Health, we realized two years ago that the rise of consumerism in healthcare required a workplace culture with a renewed and deeper focus on its main customer, the patient.

The organization began a review of its patient experience programs that lasted one year and included studying how other industries deliver consistent, valued experiences to their customers.

The result: a five-year strategic plan to put new practices in place across the 16-hospital, statewide system.

The plan looks at what matters most to consumers in their interactions with healthcare and it outlines how the IU Health work culture should change to respond. Instantaneous feedback, online services, collaborative decision-making and consumer ratings for everything – these trends and more are changing the way all organizations interact with their customers, and healthcare is no different.

Fundamental shifts in workplace culture don’t happen easily. That’s especially true for a hospital system. Long-established systems of care are in place for good reason. High reliability organizations and regulations require employees to perform their jobs in precise, set ways – and avoid interfering in the jobs of others.

But the powerful forces of consumerism push even the most traditional of employers to rethink practices and transform their cultures.

Here’s what IU Health has done so far:

     • Collect fresh data and insights about customers using new shortened surveys of patients. Surveys are sent out within 48 hours of a patient’s visit. Previously, patient surveys used paper and the process of mailing them and receiving replies took months.

     • Distribute information to team members in smarter ways. Team members now learn about patient feedback and other key data during team meetings, daily huddles, workplace postings or other direct and convenient methods. The latest patient survey results, updated weekly, are even prominently displayed on the wall of an executive conference room.

     • Reward and recognize team members. “We Deliver Wednesday” was started to recognize team members who excel in performing for patients. Teams that stand out are honored with monthly traveling trophies.

     • Encourage team members to think of the whole. We encourage our 33,000 team members to leave their swim lanes and see through the lens of their patients and coworkers. That creates a common conversation and leads to better care, with team members in different departments pulling together by focusing on what they all have in common: the customer.

     • Challenge “the norm” and foster new ways of thinking by introducing new digital tools, such as online scheduling and provider star-ratings, to create more personalized, patient-focused experiences.

We also created a new organizational structure across the system to oversee the proper care and feeding of the strategic plan. The new structure drives an enhanced environment of learning, accountability, and best-practice sharing.

How has this played out across such a large organization? I’ve heard good things. In particular, team members appreciate the transparency in the new data they receive from the patient satisfaction surveys. The data let employees see which departments get high grades from patients and which don’t.

One employee told me, “I was so busy focusing on the area I was managing I didn’t think about the bigger picture.”

IU Health’s plan for being more patient-focused even includes a public ad campaign this spring and summer to solicit ideas and stories from patients about their healthcare experiences. We hope to publicly share those stories – even as we learn from them.

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