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Competing with themselves—Hackensack Meridian Health’s formula for excellence in care

Elizabeth Paskas, VP of Experience, Innovation, and Customer Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, would be the first to tell you: she and her colleagues like to compete. She affirmed as much at an NRC Health leadership conference this January.

“We’re very competitive,” she said. “But what we’re competing over isn’t volume. It’s about the quality of service. We’re competitive because we believe in the services we provide. If you come to us, we want to give you the absolute best chance of surviving and returning to normal life as soon as possible.”

That commitment may be behind the slew of accolades awarded to Hackensack Meridian Health, and its outstanding reputation in New Jersey. But how did Hackensack Meridian Health harness its team members’ competitive spirit to create an outstanding care experience for its patients?

Elizabeth and her colleague Bridget Alston, Hackensack Meridian Health’s director of Evidence-Based Research, Coaching, and Innovation, shared some concrete strategies that drive their organization’s patient-centered approach to care.

Creating a broad coalition

Elizabeth pointed out that a commitment to service can’t originate from any one segment of a health network’s workforce.

“It’s not just the doctors, not just the nurses or other frontline team members, right?” she said. “There are many other stakeholders involved here, and they all have to weigh in on how to make that experience better.”

To give these stakeholders the opportunity to lend their voice to the process, Hackensack Meridian Health created an Experience & Innovation Cafe. She describes the Cafe as a “venue for team members, physicians, senior leaders, and executives to come together to help redesign how we deliver care.”

The Cafe also uses NRC Health Market Insights to create patient focus groups, so the organization can draw on input from another all-important perspective: their customers.

These diverging points of view inform a broad-minded approach to Hackensack Meridian Health’s customer service. Elizabeth believes this is critical to the organization’s success.

“It’s instrumental in helping us understand if our design thinking is the right thinking,” she said, “or if our customers want more from us.”

Open experimentation

Bridget, meanwhile, pointed to an innovation closer to the front line. She discussed Hackensack Meridian Health Design Labs, in which team members have a hand in re-configuring new systems and protocols prior to their system-wide deployment.

“We look at whatever change we’re trying to implement, and we have team members actually design what we’re developing,” Bridget said.

She cited the example of leader rounding. Hackensack Meridian Health had a tool in place for leaders to collect information from patients, but they found it was not as user-friendly or error-proof as they’d hoped.

“So we had them take the tool to the design lab, and use that setting to develop a new way of doing things that was meaningful to them,” Bridget said. This improved data collection, and improved how these leaders interacted with patients.

“These are the people on the front line—they know what will help them get the most from their patient experience,” Bridget said. That’s the purpose behind the Design Lab: ensuring that those who see patients have a hand in creating patient-centered systems.[/vc_column_text]

Creating continuity in care

Finally, Elizabeth discussed how Hackensack Meridian Health tackled one of health care’s most complex challenges: fragmentation in care.

“We believe that the customer’s experience is not transactional,” she said. “It’s not one experience, one time—it’s a series of moments that create an emotional experience, from the registration desk all the way to the ambulatory surgery center.”

The challenge lies in giving these moments a sense of coherence—and ensuring that they all meet the same high standard of care.

In the course of a health episode, patients can encounter a number of frustrations and barriers. These can be difficult for an organization to spot, without timely input from their customers.

At Hackensack Meridian Health, Elizabeth used NRC Health’s Real-time feedback data to show the Emergency Department (ED) team members where their patients were beginning to feel frustrated. “I said to this ED team, ‘I want to show you what your patients are saying, and you can tell me if that’s who you really are,’” she recalled.

Patient comments, collected in the Real-time feedback platform, revealed some service shortfalls that had escaped the ED team’s notice. “There were some really humbling moments,” Elizabeth said. “Some of them were shocked: ‘Really? I did that?’”

Candid feedback like this can be uncomfortable to hear. But at Hackensack Meridian Health, the team learned to be receptive, and changed their approach to care.

“A week later a patient shared her ED experience with me,” Elizabeth said, “and I was really happy with the improvements I saw.”

The competition never ends

Elizabeth believes that this openness is essential for Hackensack Meridian Health to achieve its central goal, which is to create transformational care experiences.

To that end, she believes Hackensack Meridian Health will always be competing with itself. “We’re constantly pushing ourselves and asking the questions, Are we giving our patients high-quality care? and Are we giving them the best experience possible?

The relentless focus on those questions is what makes Hackensack Meridian Health the remarkable organization that it is—and what makes NRC Health proud to partner with Hackensack Meridian Health in the pursuit of an improved patient experience.