Ralph-mullerMedicine isn’t static. It’s dynamic, continuously changing.

New developments -- typically high-tech in orientation -- frequently surface, offering brighter, more realistic prospects of slowing down, even eradicating diseases and conditions which in the past were commonly terminal.

Yet a price is often paid in the form of a more depersonalized patient experience. Amidst jam-packed data dashboards and exhaustive DNA-sequencing printouts, we risk forgetting about the human being in the bed or outpatient waiting area.

Health care shouldn’t be a choice between technical sophistication and a warm, empathetic healing environment. That’s a false dichotomy; patients deserve both. So at Penn Medicine,  we’re continuing our focus in keeping our care patient- and family-centered. And not in a small way. Instead, we’re going system-wide, across the full scale of our programs.

Here are two ways we’re doing it.

Over 2,000 managers and staff members from CPUP (the Clinical Practices of the University of Pennsylvania) and CCA (our Clinical Care Associates) have participated in the Penn Medicine Experience, a special training project aimed at improving the patient experience and offered through the Penn Medicine Academy. (The Academy supports training throughout Penn Medicine in many forms, from new-hire orientation, on-site degree completion programs and leadership development to our high school pipeline program.)

In the Penn Medicine Experience offering, front-line staff including nurses, patient service representatives, and medical assistants participate in four-hour classes focused on skill-building through video, simulation, role-playing, and coaching. The emphasis is on such behaviors as acknowledging the patient, ensuring staff always introduce themselves, explaining what will happen, and thanking the patient for coming to Penn Medicine. The program also helps managers and supervisors learn to develop the kinds of behaviors and processes that will enhance the patient experience. We’ve seen gains in our patient satisfaction scores following the introduction of the program and are working hard to build upon our successes. We’ll be expanding the program to the hospitals over the next 15 months – the work in in-patient pilot units has already begun!

Second, our new Academy of Master Clinicians will recognize and reward outstanding Penn Medicine clinicians. Invitation to the Academy will be a significant honor available for Penn physicians. A master clinician will be distinguished by superior scope of knowledge and clear enthusiasm for pursuing new knowledge. Equally important will be excellent judgment, integrity, and exemplary interpersonal and communication skills with patients and colleagues at all levels. Once announced, our new master clinicians will lead faculty workshops and serve as role models and mentors who exemplify the highest levels of professionalism. They will be change agents for positively influencing the culture of Penn Medicine. Physicians, nurses, and staff members have nominated Penn physicians from throughout the Health System for selection to the Academy. A selection committee is currently reviewing all nominations.

Focusing on the patient experience throughout the Health System is important for several reasons. First, better patient experiences often mean better clinical results. Research shows that when patients are more comfortable in the care environment, they can respond more favorably to the care that’s offered. They are also more likely to keep appointments, take their medication as directed, and come back for return visits. Second, patient satisfaction has appropriately become a key ingredient for market success in today’s highly competitive health-care environment.

Third, government and private sector payers are increasingly opting for pay-for-performance reimbursement models. This includes both the clinical outcomes of patients as well as patient experience scores.

Finally, and most important, delivering a positive patient experience is the right thing to do. Patients and their families are concerned about their plan of care, no matter how “minor” the problem or brief the stay. Those of you who have been patients yourselves have experienced the same concerns. Each of us has a professional responsibility to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.

Penn Medicine already enjoys a national reputation for clinical expertise, research excellence, and outstanding clinical education programs.  We’re continuing our focus on excellence by providing a first-rate patient experience as well. With the exceptional team that we have in place -- including you -- I’m confident that we will position Penn Medicine as a continued leader in patient care.