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Patient Experience Case Study - Northwell Health
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See the opportunities and challenges organizations face in addressing the patient experience.

Case Studies provide real stories of current efforts, including programs being initiated, practices being implemented, and outcomes being targeted and/or achieved. Case studies are presented as both an opportunity for learning from others as well as a spark for further ideas on how we work to improve the patient experience. If you have a case study to share please contact us.

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A Holistic Approach to Infusing Hospitality in Healthcare

What was the opportunity, issue or challenge you were trying to address and in what setting?

In 2014, Chief Experience Officer, Sven Gierlinger, came to Northwell Health with extensive experience within the hospitality industry. As a leader within The Ritz Carlton Company and after a life-altering personal experience recovering from Guillian-Barre Syndrome, Sven saw firsthand the parallel between hospitality and healthcare. Both are consumer-centric, focus on individualization and aim to create high-touch, high-quality experiences. Our organization’s patient experience strategy is grounded on four major pillars: Culture, Care Delivery, Hospitality and Accountability. Within the Hospitality pillar, we look to non-healthcare industry best practices such as hotels, restaurants, airlines and online retail, to elevate the patient and family experience.

At Northwell Health, our internal definition for patient experience is: Every Moment Matters. Infusing hospitality into our organization’s DNA plays homage to our definition in that every person, every role, every moment is a moment of absolute truth. In 2017, the Office of Patient & Customer Experience (OPCE), led by the Chief Experience Officer, set out to create a pipeline of hospitality-minded talent into the organization. We believed this subset of professionals would challenge the status quo, fuel innovation, introduce new perspectives, and guide the progression of embedding hospitality fundamentals into clinical and nonclinical healthcare processes.

What process did you use to develop a solution?

Nationally, many higher education institutions are growing their program for Hospitality majors and minors. Hospitality students, historically, would complete field experiences at hotels, restaurants and on cruise ships. We believed introducing passionate college students to healthcare as part of their undergraduate education would be a mutually beneficial experience. Students would expand their knowledge base, gain real-life experience and be exposed to a variety of clinical and non-clinical environments. Consecutively, our organization would receive candid, non-biased feedback and creative hospitality-based solutions. In 2017, the OPCE team partnered with Human Resources Workforce Readiness colleagues to create a novel program, the Northwell Health Hospitality In Healthcare Internship. This partnership was effective in that both teams felt passionate about engaging college hospitality students into the organization.

What outcomes were you looking to achieve?

Our ultimate goal of the Northwell Health Hospitality in Healthcare Internship program was to develop a pipeline of hospitality-minded talent into the organization to enhance patient and customer experience. We felt strongly their robust training, unique perspective and solid knowledge-base would be an absolute asset to the organization, our patients, families and community served..

What specific steps did you take to address the problem?

The OPCE and Workforce Readiness teams collaborated to create the innovative and unique, Hospitality in Healthcare Internship. The program focuses on holistic, non-clinical, hospitality-based approaches to enhancing the patient and customer experience throughout the continuum of care. This eight-week, paid internship commitment enables college level interns to work alongside local patient experience and operational leaders at specific hospitals or ambulatory centers. We began with recruitment. In Spring 2017, the Internship was launched by posting the position through the organization’s career website. Junior and Senior level college students were required to submit their resume and letter of intent explaining their interest in the program. Applicants had varied majors from hospitality to business, psychology, biology and communications. We leveraged Skype technology for the interview process since many of the students were actively at their college or university. Parallel to the recruitment and selection process, the OPCE team focused on structuring the program by engaging site patient experience leaders to serve as mentors, guides and coaches.

In 2017, following a comprehensive recruitment and interviewing process, four junior/senior-level college students were selected to intern at two Northwell hospitals. Interns were on-boarded to the organization through the formal Human Resources processes and participated in new employee orientation. The OPCE also launched their experience by providing an experiential day meeting senior level patient experience leader and learning Culture of C.A.R.E., introduction to healthcare and patient experience data and analytics 101. This orientation was essential to set expectations, inspire interns and provide them with crucial baseline information before walking into complex world of healthcare.

Interns were exposed to a variety of experiences while at their site. They shadowed many hospitality-based services such as Patient & Family Centered Care, Environmental Services, Food & Nutrition, Concierge, Chaplaincy, Security, etc. These rich experiences provided key insight into patient-centered care, healthcare operations and opportunities for improvement. Interns joined in leadership meetings, shared governance councils, staff meetings and patient and family partnership councils. They also participated in leadership rounding, family meetings and system-level patient experience shared work teams.

Each intern was responsible for completing a capstone project. This program hallmark, challenged interns to focus on one specific patient-centered opportunity to propose and/or implement performance improvement based on hospitality concepts. In our first year, capstone projects ranged from Emergency Department plan of care communication, building community among patients within a step-down orthopedic surgery unit, pediatric ambulatory patient and family tracers and family experience within the surgical waiting room. Although focus areas varied, interns completed direct observations, patient/family/staff interviews, process mapping and reviewed qualitative and quantitative patient experience data. They provided actionable feedback and gave specific hospitality-based interventions to hospital leadership and interdisciplinary teams. Interns presented their experience and implementation recommendations during a system-wide patient experience leader meeting. The work of our first intern cohort was so well received and their capstone projects inspired additional leaders to voice interest in the program.

This year, due to the previous year’s success, we almost tripled the number of interns, hosting 11 students across tertiary, community, behavioral health and children’s hospitals, as well as two service lines (Cancer and Urology). We had over 500 applicants apply for the program from across the country and from top colleges and universities. Branching into ambulatory care with this program showcases that hospitality-based programs are desired across the care continuum. A major focus for our organization - capstone projects from our second cohort had alignment to publically-report Star Ratings. Projects included creating a quiet and therapeutic environment, physician communication, medication education, discharge readiness, ED proactive rounding, empathy mapping, first impressions, phone etiquette and experience design, technology and real-time feedback and “patient voices” recognition program. Due to the larger number of interns, this year’s capstone projects were presented in a dedicated forum with senior leaders, patient experience teams and site mentors in attendance. We plan on continuing to expand the internship program annually by increasing the number of interns, sites and service lines and focusing on high-impact, patient-centered opportunities.

What resources, if any, did you engage – either internally or externally – to address the problem?

Our partners in organizing and executing the Northwell Health Hospitality in Healthcare Internship were the Human Resources Workforce Readiness team. Their support, leadership and passion was crucial for launching this novel program. Another key stakeholder included the site patient experience leaders who invested significant time and energy on-boarding, mentoring and coaching interns throughout the internship experience. The relationship they had with their intern was valuable, personable and made incredible long-lasting impacts. For recruitment, we did use our external career site to post the position, field applicants and promote the program. We also leveraged Skype technology for interviews since many of the applicants were attending school out of state, studying abroad or not local for a traditional interview. Having this live interaction was key to obtaining applicant perspectives, experiences, and responses to answers – and helped us assess their communication and interpersonal skills.

What measures did you establish to determine the success of this effort?

To measure the impact and success of our internship program, we identified the following measures:

  • Completion and graduation rate
  • Successful completion and presentation of capstone project
  • Capstone project implemented and sustained at the hospital/service line upon completion of the internship program
  • Job offers & accepted positions
  • Evaluations – feedback from interns and preceptors

What was the ultimate outcome of your effort?

We are proud of the following Northwell Health Hospitality in Healthcare Internship outcomes:

  • Capstone project implemented and sustained (100% of capstone projects have been implemented at their hospital/service line)
    • Examples of capstone projects and sustainment efforts include the following:
      • First Impressions Project: Redesigned sustained way-finding map and environmental signage for Ambulatory Surgery Center, and helped design “Quiet Cube” area for patients/visitors within the hospital.
      • Patient Voices: Formalized staff recognition program and created replication manual, and created an easy to navigate online registration process for patients to access prenatal classes.
      • Real Time Feedback: Created process map and user-friendly design changes to Interactive Patient System (IPS).
      • Quiet at Night Rounds: Recommendations made to patient amenities kit, and developed intervention method for Child Life patients to enhance empathy and personalization, as well as understand overall experience trends.
      • Empathy Mapping: Infused empathy mapping technique to enhance overall experience for behavioral health patients.
  • Successful completion and graduation of the Internship program (100% for cohort 1 & 2)
  • Successful completion and presentation of their capstone project (100% for cohort 1 &2)
  • Job offers (50% of eligible interns were offered a job within Northwell Health) -
  • Accepted positions (27% of eligible interns are currently working within Northwell)
  • Additional highlights:
    • 75% of the first cohort interns came back for a second year experience
    • One intern was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America
  • Intern Evaluation highlights:
    • 100% felt their sponsor/mentor provided engaging and meaningful work
    • 100% felt they were a valued part of the team o 100% would recommend this program to a friend / would participate again
    • Student Feedback: I really enjoyed having a project that was completely my own in terms of inception and creation that would truly benefit the organization.
  • Mentor Evaluation highlights:
    • 100% will participate in the program next year
    • 90% would recommend their intern for an entry level position within the organization
    • 90% felt it was an exceptional experience
    • Mentor Feedback: It was a wonderful experience. It was terrific to have such a capable person working on projects. Our intern was self-directed and goal-oriented.

What lessons did you learn you would share with others as they consider addressing a similar issue?

As we reflect on this experience, we feel there are many lessons that can be learned:

  • When you have a vision or see an opportunity – make it happen
  • Sometimes you’re not sure how to start, but just start somewhere, even if it’s small
  • Find a partner within your organization to help carry forward your vision
  • Recruit for two specific areas: student interest/passion and site need
  • Understand the culture and climate of the area you’re recruiting for to ensure you match the appropriate personality, work style, interest and mentorship
  • Invest time in identifying and supporting the site sponsor/mentor
  • Start early as internships are competitive and timely
About Northwell Health

Northwell Health is a dynamic organization of 23 hospitals, and more than 650 physician practice locations spanning geographically from Westchester County to New York City and across Long Island. With 63,500+ employees, Northwell is the largest private employer in New York State, caring for more than 4 million individuals each year. Our mission statement, is “to improve the health and quality of the life for the people and communities we serve by providing world-class service and patient-centered care.” Our brand is our promise to consumers, our Employee Promise is a promise to one another, and our Culture of C.A.R.E. is our promise to patients and families.

Case Study Authored by: Sven Gierlinger, VP, Chief Experience Officer; Agnes Barden, DNP, RN, CPXP; VP, Office of Patient & Customer Experience; Mallory Tuomey, MS; Manager, PX Communication & Events; Nicole Giammarinaro, RN, MSN; Director, Education & Research; Lauren Pearson, RN; Manager of Workforce Readiness

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