Clinical Care

Enhancing the Patient Experience

By Charles Buchanan

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Everybody has notions about the best ways to improve health care. Now UAB has a process to test new ideas through its Innovation Board. It works like this: Any employee can submit any non-research idea, and if the board likes what it sees, it will fund up to $5,000 for a pilot project that can show results within 60 to 90 days. “If it’s promising, the board can help shepherd the idea across the UAB Health System,” says David Randall, senior vice president of strategic planning and business development. “You see this kind of thing at high-tech Silicon Valley companies; it’s rare for health care.”

Ideas have included a text/e-mail system informing patients of appointment delays, pictograms in patient rooms to improve communication, and “e-consults” between primary care physicians and specialists, among others. “These small, scalable changes can have a big impact,” says S. Louis Bridges Jr., M.D., Ph.D., an Innovation Board member and director of the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology. “We can quickly capitalize on new opportunities and continually upgrade the patient experience.”     

The Innovation Board, like other aspects of UAB’s clinical strategic plan, “leverages what’s in UAB’s DNA for doing things better and differently,” Randall says. The result will be a more nimble, proactive, and interactive medical center that can thrive in a rapidly changing health-care environment.

All Together Now

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Aligning goals, measuring outcomes, and creating a system of accountability are key to the plan. These will take multiple forms in UAB’s hospitals and clinics—frequent rounds to gauge the experience of patients and physicians/staff, follow-up calls, and care teams designed to listen to and address the needs of patients and families, for example. “We want to create common goals, communication, and collaboration,” Randall explains.

Other alignment and integration initiatives will improve physician, staff, and patient dialogue and strengthen UAB’s care offerings. “The patient must be at the center of all we do,” says UAB Health System CEO Will Ferniany, Ph.D. “By expanding the concept of our comprehensive centers and creating integrated practice units, we will bring multiple disciplines together to focus on a patient or disease in a more collaborative way.”

Likewise, a health-care reform task force has brought together a wide range of UAB experts to share multiple perspectives on the legislation’s implementation and consequences. “This allows us to think more creatively and be more responsive,” Randall explains.

Enhancing Access

Referring physicians will see some changes. “We recently surveyed about 1,000 Alabama physicians and formed a task force to respond specifically to their concerns,” Randall says. Better communication is one priority. The Ambassador program, a Web-based tool enabling referring physicians to electronically view their patients’ UAB records, will become more interactive, adding proactive notices to physicians when their patients have been admitted. UAB also is exploring new relationships with providers; the new Cancer Care Network, with affiliated community medical centers in three states, offers one example. “These physicians can access our protocols, clinical trials, quality metrics, educational opportunities, and other tools—all aimed at helping them provide care locally,” Randall says.

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Ultimately, these upgrades will boost the quality and efficiency of care as well as patient satisfaction. “We want to be the place where patients choose to come for care,” Ferniany says. “Medical centers like Harvard and Johns Hopkins may always be the most prestigious, but we are positioning UAB to become the nation’s most preferred.”

To create a more service-oriented culture for accessible, timely, and coordinated care, UAB has appointed quality officers and a director for patient access. “Patients will eventually see improvements in access,” Randall notes. “We are streamlining appointment scheduling so that if there’s a cancellation, we can get the next patient in. Long term, we’d like to see greater Web-based interaction so that patients can communicate with physicians and perhaps schedule appointments.”

Implementation of the clinical plan is proceeding quickly, in part because of the excitement it has generated among the leadership and staff, Bridges says. “It encourages a creative spirit. People are eager to find different ways to be part of the solution.”