SSM Health Care, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States, has a long-term commitment to employee learning and development.
The organization operates 20 acute care hospitals and two nursing homes in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma and employs 23,000 workers, including 5,000 physicians, to provide a wide range of health care services.
SSM Health Care’s other health-related businesses include information systems, home care management and support services, such as supply chain management and clinical engineering. The organization also has an owning interest in Premier Medical Insurance Group Inc., one of Wisconsin’s largest health maintenance organizations.
SSM Health Care’s mission and values call for the highest level of customer service in the health care industry and encourage all employees to develop the leadership, management and communication skills needed to support their goals. To make this mission a reality, SSM University, the organization’s internal education arm, provides learning and development programs to employees across all levels and departments.
To help employees understand how to do the things that matter most to patients, SSM Health Care developed a strategic, organization-wide program called Achieving Exceptional Patient Care (AEPC). AEPC defines the actions employees should take to ensure the highest level of customer service at every SSM Health Care facility.
AEPC was initiated in 2006 as a result of a review of the organization’s patient and employee satisfaction metrics.
The review revealed that while performance was high, it had been flat for several years. With the desire to improve, the organization’s leaders took a hard look at processes and standards around patient services and assessed whether performance levels were, in fact, truly exceptional.
In addition to the internal review, SSM Health Care also benchmarked other high-performing organizations and researched ways to improve patient satisfaction, learning from organizations such as IHI, Plaintree and Baptist Health Care. The organization selected the best from this research and used that as a platform for discussions to create its own program.
With representatives from every SSM Health Care entity, eight teams gathered together to discuss how to leverage, adapt and modify the findings from the internal and external research for use by SSM Health Care employees systematically across the entire organization. The end result was the AEPC initiative, which includes eight elements:
• Exceptional service standards.
• Exceptional conversations.
• Exceptional rounding.
• Exceptional recognition.
• Selecting exceptional employees.
• Exceptional patient experiences.
• Exceptional service recovery.
• Exceptional ideas.
A team comprised of members of the company’s strategy and systems improvement group, corporate communications group, corporate human resources and SSM University staff led the effort to generate the program elements of AEPC, including structuring learning content, the communication plan and determining how the program could be integrated into employees’ daily work. In total, this effort took more than 18 months. The initiative was designed to improve the patient-care experience and increase employee satisfaction simultaneously.
Each element of AEPC and its associated learning components serve as a resource for SSM Health Care entities to improve the experience of the patients they serve. The program was designed so each element would be consistently rolled out throughout the organization, with the goal of reaching every one of their 23,000 employees.
SSM Health Care worked with Ninth House Inc. to develop learning and communication materials that modeled AEPC principles for its staff and partnered to create a series of custom e-learning vignettes that address real patient-care issues based upon the eight elements of AEPC. The three- to five-minute learning modules use rich media and Hollywood-style video to provide behavior modeling, illustrating what exceptional patient care looks and feels like, but also the personal benefits of living the AEPC principles.
Each custom vignette includes Flash activities and quick reference tools that can be printed for instant access and to support SSM Health Care managers with the development of their direct reports. The visual aspect of the custom vignettes also has proven to be highly valuable in helping SSM Health Care overcome one of its biggest challenges: consistent deployment of the AEPC elements across their large and geographically dispersed workforce.
SSM Health Care’s AEPC learning solution also includes a performance support system, Instant Advice, for reinforcement and practice. Comprised of short, Web-based instructional videos, Instant Advice delivers on-demand coaching on topics that can have an immediate impact, reinforcing positive behaviors to improve SSM Health Care patient care and internal relationships across the organization. The goal is to provide SSM Health Care employees with immediate, actionable solutions to daily challenges.
The custom vignettes and Instant Advice modules are available to all SSM Health Care employees via its LMS, with more than 7,500 views to date. The vignettes also are used to demonstrate good and bad examples of desired behaviors during classroom-based courses delivered through SSM University, and they have been pushed out to groups of employees via e-mail as an internal marketing vehicle for the AEPC initiative.
To further support the learning goals of AEPC, SSM Health Care also has delivered two online published courses to leaders across the organization through an integrated, blended-learning format. “Forging Breakthroughs” and “Resolving Interpersonal Issues” develop critical strategic thinking, planning and decision-making skills. These programs teach techniques for adapting quickly to change, promoting innovative thinking and collaboration between work groups and emphasize the power of open communication and mutual problem solving.
Both programs have been delivered through a cascading model, “Leaders Developing Leaders,” starting with the most senior SSM Health Care leaders, including CEO Sister Mary Jean Ryan and entity presidents.
Program participants first complete the self-paced courses online and then participate in classroom group-application sessions where the concepts of the courses are discussed, practiced and applied to real-life scenarios. Customized learning guides, with reference tools and practice exercises specific to SSM Health Care’s environment also are provided to all learners.
In addition to participating in the program, the senior executives also received a cascade package with learning materials and training led by Corporate Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness Dawn Runge, enabling them to facilitate their own application sessions with their extended teams.
The programs have been completed by approximately 2,000 leaders across the organization. The strategic-thinking application sessions have uncovered major business opportunities and issues, including how to develop improved relationships with partner physicians and how to overcome organizational cultural challenges to enable the smooth rollout of a new electronic records system. Anecdotal evidence from SSM Health Care executives points to higher quality interactions between team members.
Feedback to date indicates that the majority of participants strongly feel that the training is critical to their job performance and has significantly impacted their job satisfaction. Learning effectiveness and job impact measures scored 5.97 and 6.08, respectively, on a seven-point scale.
So what’s next? The organization knows the pursuit of performance excellence is never finished. They will continue to refine the existing AEPC elements and associated learning programs that, when used together, have been shown to positively affect patient and employee satisfaction.
The ultimate goal of the AEPC initiative is for the SSM Health Care system to be ranked in the top 1 percent of all hospitals nationwide for patient satisfaction.
“We use the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria to develop better approaches to improve patient care, and also to overall operations,” Sister Ryan said. “As we continue to improve everything we do at SSM Health Care, we want to inspire others to join us in raising health care in this country to a new level.
“In 1999, we became the first health care system in the country to receive a Baldrige site visit,” she said. “Since then, we’ve applied three more times, and our goal has always been to use the Baldrige criteria to improve the quality of our health care services to our patients.”
In addition to AEPC, SSM began the process of revitalizing its Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) program. The revitalized program, called CQIplus, will incorporate elements of Lean and Six Sigma and will focus on improving processes to make them more streamlined, efficient and cost-effective.
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