Do You Need a Director?

If your hospital is part of a larger health system with many hospitals in several states, should there be a Director of Patient Experience in each of them? Do you need a director-level position if the overall vision and program strategy is done at a regional or national level or could you do just fine with a coordinator or a specialist managing the day-to-day drivers of improvement? If you have a dedicated person inside the walls of each hospital, does patient experience become that person’s job instead of everyone’s?

When I’ve held the director-level position, it was primarily at independent hospitals, those not tied to a larger health system. I, along with the local executive team, set the strategy, created the training tools, selected the vendors for our electronic rounding programs, and structured the accountability standards. In a larger system, all of those things are done at the national or regional level, with very little room for variability at the local level. 

When all of those decisions are being made at a higher level, do you need a director at each hospital? You could make the argument that a director who sits on the operational leadership team has more influence and will be able to more effectively lead culture change within the walls of the hospital than a specialist-level would. You could say that it sends a message to staff that patient experience is important and that’s why there’s a director in charge of it.

But when there’s a high level person in that role, it often becomes solely his or her responsibility. Staff can more easily say, “This is a patient experience issue. It’s not my job, call her,” when the reality is, of course, it’s everyone’s job.

Staff understand that everyone has a role to play when it comes to safety and quality, but patient experience is often seen as one person’s job. That can be especially true when there’s a director on site. If it were a coordinator or a specialist, you can more easily make the argument that the directors over each unit and department have to take ownership of patient experience results. The specialist can offer support and assistance by providing data, offering training, and assisting in service recovery, but the directors have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that staff deliver on the promise of an exceptional experience. 

And specialists aren’t in charge of setting the strategic direction. They get the tools from the national or regional level and are charged with executing on those tools. It’s difficult for a director to act on a prepackaged toolkit about which they had no input, especially if they’ve had that responsibility previously. 

If the goal of the large multi-site health system is consistency across the enterprise, it will do just fine to set the strategy, create the training, design the toolkit, and analyze the data at the system level. Create some director positions at the regional level to serve as consultants for lower performing hospitals and then have a specialist or coordinator at each hospital to keep things running smoothly.  

How does your hospital manage its patient experience efforts?

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

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