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The Highest Mission in Hotels and Healthcare

Posted By Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010

There is no disputing the name Ritz-Carlton is synonymous with customer service. Part of the credo of Ritz-Carlton is, "Where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.” And now more and more hospitals are adopting the Ritz-Carlton service excellence model. This isn’t surprising given that hospitals will soon receive a portion of their Medicare reimbursement based on patient satisfaction scores. With this imminent reality, I wasn’t surprised when Henry Ford West Bloomfield, a new suburban Detroit hospital, chose a former Ritz-Carlton executive as its CEO, nor was I shocked to learn about the Concierge Care program at New Jersey-based Riverview Medical Center. Through this service, Riverview patients can order a massage or manicure during their stay, make arrangements for pet care, take care of gift lists with gift selection, wrapping and shipping services, and order delicious meals from participating area restaurants. These services dramatically reframe the traditional expectations of a hospital experience.

What did catch me by surprise is that some hotels are now purposefully shifting to act more like hospitals. The Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia has rolled out a new concierge service developed exclusively for discharged patients who aren’t ready to go home and don’t want to stray too far from the medical team that provided care. The service appears ideal for patients who have lengthy but uncomplicated recovery times or lengthy treatment scenarios. For patients, the hotel offers more pampering than if they had stayed at the hospital. For the hotels, the recovering guests present the opportunity for new revenue streams. A medical concierge at the hotel tends to each guests needs. The concierge does not perform medical procedures or administer drugs, but the concierge can provide wake-up calls for medical appointments, transportation to and from doctors' offices, special sleep arrangements, custom dietary options, prescription pickups, etc. Because the hotel is close to the hospital, medical teams can more easily provide necessary follow up care. The hotel shuttle can even pick them up. All the services are a la carte, added to a guest's final bill much as an in-room movie would be. Whether specific services are covered by health insurance is up to the guest's provider.

Philadelphia, with its abundance of internationally recognized hospitals, was a natural fit for the hotel chain's pilot program, said Michael Walsh, general manager of the city's Ritz-Carlton. Hotel analysts say the medical-concierge idea is the latest competitive strategy for luxury hotels, which boast of having the best of everything. If the medical-concierge program is successful, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. says it plans to expand it nationally and abroad.

You may be thinking to yourself, "We don’t have a Ritz-Carlton next to our facility or even the internal bandwidth to offer concierge-like services.” This shouldn’t limit you in this effort. Perhaps you can partner with other businesses in your community to provide special services for your patients while they are undergoing outpatient treatment or in the hospital. For instance, are you near a bakery that will deliver get-well cookies, or a drycleaner who is willing to pick up patient clothing? Could a local hotel shuttle pull double-duty as a hospital shuttle for outpatient visits or doctor’s appointments? If a service could be viewed as a value-add for the patient or family member, consider how to make it work. It will be sustainable if the concept benefits both the hospital and the local business, plus it will have you stand out for your commitment to service.

As someone whose organization is committed to helping hospitals provide the optimum customer experience to patients and families, I’m struck by the genius behind the Ritz-Carlton effort. This type of commitment to the patient experience before, during and after the delivery of care should be at the core of all we do in health care. It is a chance for you to become an extended business partner in the communities you serve and more importantly have your institution be the place patients choose not only for care, but for superior service. Go ahead…surprise them!

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
Executive Director
The Beryl Institute

Related Body of Knowledge courses: Patient & Family Centeredness.

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The Hospital as Traffic Cop

Posted By Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If you’ve spent time near urban downtown traffic intersections, you’ve likely seen these brave souls…. traffic cops. Nowadays, of course, traffic police can be spotted near malls, busy school zones and large churches. They are indispensible.

As health care policy experts talk about health care reform, one of the central aims of reform is improving care coordination, and the overriding assumption is that hospitals will be the traffic cops. Health care’s busiest intersection is the nexus where hospitals, insurers, other health care providers and payers mix together. It’s a loud and busy place. In the future, physicians will no doubt play a role in care coordination, but hospitals will be deciding when patients need to be released, where they should go for care after discharge, and what the care continuum will look like. This is all the more likely as an increasing number of physicians become employees of hospitals as part of growth initiatives or due to the fact that they are seeking some level of economic security.

Many health care experts are betting that Accountable Care Organizations will form across the country to manage care coordination. That’s not necessarily the case everywhere when you consider that setting up an ACO is a complex proposition.

With or without ACOs, my instincts tell me that hospitals will be the central drivers in a new care coordination system. To operate effectively, though, hospitals will need a more sophisticated system of communications to accomplish their work, meaning integrated voice, IT and patient records systems and channels.

We know the government has pledged to help hospitals upgrade their IT systems to advance use of electronic health records. The government hasn’t pledged financial support for upgrading phone communications systems and triage networks, leaving that to each hospital to manage. But this work isn’t merely a technological issue; it’s also an issue of customer relationship management. How will hospitals maintain connections with patients, payers and other providers so that care is better coordinated? The same way they do it now? Let’s hope not. I say this simply because we’ve seen only limited examples of successful and effective care coordination, primarily in markets that have sole providers in a tight geographical region--Geisinger Health System comes to mind. The Medicare Advantage program also deploys care coordination teams for some, but not all, of its covered lives.

The real challenge for hospitals that will carry out the job of traffic cop will be setting up the care coordination teams, creating infrastructure to support them, and paying for this new and intense level of service. Some health systems are large enough to manage this endeavor on their own having the needed staff resources on hand, but my guess is most hospitals are not prepared for the potential scope of this effort. In terms of the financial implications for this effort, it’s anyone’s guess.

We know care coordination holds the promise of improved health outcomes for many patients, especially patients with chronic illnesses. We believe better care coordination will ultimately generate savings through reduced hospitalizations and readmissions and eliminating duplicative services. Maybe the savings will balance the expense. More often than not, the savings don’t fall to the hospitals, but to the payers. My hope is that regulatory issues won’t prevent all the parties involved from sharing the savings with hospitals and ultimately the consumers of healthcare themselves.

One consistent theme in the discussions around health care reform is that hospitals are being asked to invest a great deal of their limited resources up front to help fix the system, with the hope and promise that they will reap a legitimate ROI later. I sincerely hope this is the case. No sane traffic cop would enter an intersection without a whistle, orange vest and white gloves. We can’t expect hospitals to perform the vital activities that are linked with care coordination without providing them adequate resources and support.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
Executive Director
The Beryl Institute

Related Body of Knowledge courses: Metrics and Measurement.

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