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Providing Quality Healthcare in a Values-Driven Culture

Tom Mallon, for HealthLeaders Media, November 20, 2009

As the old saying goes: good people are hard to find. Fortunately—or unfortunately depending on one's point of view—good people are easier to find as a result of the Great Recession. While healthcare has not been hit as hard by the economic downtown as some market niches, our industry has not escaped completely and there have been job cuts. Whether from inside the industry, or as a result of career changes from other disciplines, in this bad economy we have the chance to find good people and bring them onto our teams.

The reason this is important is because whatever form healthcare reform finally takes, there is a call going out nationwide to improve the quality of healthcare. A higher quality of care means access to care, the ability to access that care more quickly and receive better service once care is accessed. The result, then, is improved patient outcomes. And all of this is achieved, hopefully, at a lower cost.

Much structural reform is needed to get to higher quality healthcare. My experience is that in the end it's people who make the difference. Good people, whether partners or employees, bring more than technical expertise. They bring a conscious, intellectual and emotional commitment to their job. To earn that commitment and in turn reward it requires a values-driven environment that nurtures people, rewards their commitment and ultimately drives to a visualized and clearly communicated goal of high quality care and improved results for patients.

A good example of a values-driven culture is Southwest Airlines.

Southwest instills its culture from the executive level down to new hires. Simply, the airline delivers great service; it's on time and offers customers low fares.

The carrier is known for its quick execution. The most common example is the airline's ability to turn around a plane in 20 minutes from the time it arrives at a gate to when it departs next. Some things are beyond its control, but the success of quick turnaround has given Southwest its legendary competitive advantage.

Southwest's dedication to quality is reflected in its use of technology. The most easily recognizable example is the replacement of old aircraft with new aircraft to improve performance efficiencies and passenger comfort.

Translated to healthcare, quality and value means buy-in across an organization-wide to a values-driven, patient-focused culture with its ultimate goal of superior care. It means looking at how we execute and seeking to do it more efficiently without losing our humanity. It means learning that we don't embrace the use of technology for technology's sake; rather we use it where the result is better care at lower cost.

We all have the opportunity to create a values-driven culture that results in a positive, welcoming, healing environment for patients that delivers high quality care. We have found that we can create this culture by:

  • Treating patients, their families, and each other with respect. Make the patients feel cared for. Pay attention to their concerns. Do the same for colleagues and peers. And do it every time.
  • Living and demonstrating integrity. Do what we say we're going to do. Stick to our commitments and abide by our organization's structure and guidelines. And abide by the laws and regulations that pertain to our industry.
  • Communicating with the patient, with the patient's family and with each other. Act quickly on requests, whether from patients, from physicians or from each other—and always follow up. Survey patients, get their feedback and act on the information they provide. And do this with consistency.
  • Being efficient. Time is precious. Yes, it's money (another old saying), but it is also finite. We only have so much of it. Plan and prioritize and then follow that plan. Ensure that you are using the organization's technological resources wisely, acquiring new technology when appropriate, not just because it's the latest thing. Use the other resources offered by the organization and your peers efficiently and effectively.

We created a values-driven, patient-focused culture based on the steps I have just described. Using a formal process, it helped establish the guidelines and metrics to create an inclusive, patient-centric environment and measure our performance and how to improve it. The result is a healing environment that also nurtures our staff and clinicians while delivering the highest quality care to patients.

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