Dr. Abelson Connects - a Park Nicollet CEO blog

Facing healthcare reform with Head + Heart, Together

A great experience must be the foundation of everything we do at Park Nicollet. Patients and families tend to judge quality through the lens of their experiences. Indeed, what we typically think of as clinical quality flows from healing relationships between patients, their families and healthcare providers.

Additionally, when patients and families are pleased with their experience, they become advocates for Park Nicollet in the community. If they are unhappy with their experience, they will understandably complain to friends and neighbors. We can’t build a thriving organization at Park Nicollet when patients and families don’t glow about their interactions with us.

To help us succeed in optimizing the experience of patients and families at Park Nicollet, 16 months ago we launched an ongoing effort to refocus our internal culture and emphasize the importance of putting patients and families at the center of every decision we make, whether at the operating table or in a business meeting about how to run our hospital and clinics.

It seems simple, but over the past century this is not how healthcare has historically been run. Many policies and procedures we accept at face value were designed for the convenience of us. Healthcare administrators decided what worked best for their organizations and just assumed that patients would figure out how to navigate the system they created.

I was never comfortable with that outlook even at the start of my medical career. Fortunately, much has changed in the way healthcare services are provided today and I feel fortunate that, as a healthcare CEO, I am able to help our organization focus on meeting both the clinical and emotional needs of our patients.

We call our refocused internal culture at Park Nicollet “Head + Heart, Together” (HHT).  Here’s a breakdown of what we mean by working with Head + Heart, Together.

“Head” (IQ) refers to our work around evidence-based medicine, our attention to clinical outcomes, the way we will use data to make decisions about the best care protocol to follow, and to the business of running a large healthcare system. 

“Heart” (EQ) is all about providing compassionate care in the moment and keeping our patients at the center of everything we do and every decision we make. When we work across boundaries with our patients and families, we won’t do things “to” or “for” patients – we will do things with patients and their families.

“Together” means doing both head- and heart-centered activities in combination. It also means working as a team across departments and specialties, all of us united around caring together with our patients and their families.

We are now approaching a year and a half of working with HHT at Park Nicollet and the results are very encouraging. Our patient experience scores have significantly increased, an early indication that we are making good progress. Our team member engagement scores have also increased, helping us create an improved environment for both our patients and the people who work for us. In the short term, we believe our emphasis on Head + Heart, Together has been a success at Park Nicollet.

We also believe that HHT will have a significant role in the long term in helping keep Park Nicollet thriving in the difficult and challenging environment of healthcare reform. We are entering a period of historic and transformative changes in healthcare. We are adjusting to changes that are occurring now as healthcare moves from the traditional fee-for-service form of payment to a still evolving economic model. And we face changes yet to come, with the decision expected next month by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of federal healthcare reform, and the changes that will inevitably occur regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court case. 

If present trends continue, healthcare providers like Park Nicollet can increasingly expect to lose money on serving an ever-growing universe of patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid (where we lose approximately 30-40 cents on the dollar when providing services). If costs continue to rise, more and more of our patients will struggle to pay their medical bills. Despite such challenges, all of us come together, every day, with dedication and determination to serve our patients exceptionally well – even in the most difficult conditions. 

We must find a way to deliver our care differently and make it more affordable – all while we pay exquisite attention to need. We must align doing well by doing right. In other words, we must find a way to make a profit as we keep our patients healthy and out of the hospital. (For more details on how we must transform the way we deliver care, see my previous blogs “The Cost Curve” and  “Health Care and Zip Codes.”)

In a time of so many wrenching changes in healthcare some things must remain the same, namely healing relationships. We must remain close to our roots – the patient and family experience – as we transform.

While a challenging proposition, it is not an impossible dream. Everyone at Park Nicollet has been at work on a number of fronts to transform our care, and, in the process, allow all of us to align doing well with doing right. And we must do it all within our patient-centric culture of Head + Heart, Together.

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