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4 Initiatives of Patient Experience Success at UnityPoint Health

By Christopher Cheney  
   November 20, 2019

One of the efforts to improve patient experience at UnityPoint Health is the launch of LGBTQ-friendly clinics.

This article appears in the January/February 2020 edition of HealthLeaders magazine. 

Patient experience has become a top priority in the healthcare industry as the transition to value-based care unfolds. In the current market conditions, patient experience not only drives consumer loyalty but also helps health systems and hospitals to gauge whether they are delivering value to their patients.

To that end, UnityPoint Health has been investing resources to improve patient experience.

This year, West Des Moines, Iowa–based UnityPoint Health's UnityPoint Clinic division achieved a top 10% ranking from Press Ganey Associates, a national leader in patient satisfaction surveys.

In a conversation with HealthLeaders, David Williams, MD, president and CEO of UnityPoint Clinic and UnityPoint at Home, highlighted four examples of initiatives and capabilities that have boosted the health system's patient experience.

"It's our job to grow out an exceptional experience. We have been trying to do that in pockets of our organization forever, but we're better organized now and able to spread an exceptional experience throughout the health system," he says.

1. 'High touch' readmission reduction program

In 2016, UnityPoint implemented its "Heat Map" readmissions reduction program, which combines predictive analytics with the efforts of nurse care managers.

"We take our analytics and analyze hundreds of data points in a readmission reduction tool. We have found many of the triggers to find out before someone decompensates and gets sick," Williams says.

The Heat Map program allows UnityPoint to target patients who are at risk of readmission, he says.

"For many years, we had been seeing patients one week after hospital discharge for follow up. With our readmission tool, we have found that our follow-up visits miss some patients because many decompensate about three days after they get out of a hospital. For other patients, they look great a week after leaving a hospital, then two to three weeks after their hospitalization they decompensate," he says.

Nurse care managers play a crucial role in the program, he says.

"We use our readmissions reduction tool and put it in the hands of our care managers—that's where the personal touch comes in. These nurses reach out to the patients. Many times, they know the patients on a personal basis. They not only have an empathetic relationship with the patient but also have the patient's confidence. If these nurses tell patients when to get in for follow up and what they need to do to care for themselves, we find patients follow that direction almost 100% of the time. The care coordinators develop trust, they get patients into our clinics before they decompensate, and it is the best example we have of patient segmentation," Williams says.

The Heat Map program has attained a significant reduction in hospital readmissions, Williams says.

"There has been a dramatic drop in patients who have been readmitted by using both the predictive analytics and the high touch of dedicated care coordinators. Our early findings over the past year have shown that we have decreased the rate of readmissions in a fragile population by two-thirds. It's not statistically proven yet, but we'll get there."

2. LGBTQ-friendly clinics

UnityPoint has launched two LGBTQ-friendly clinics. In January 2018, the health system opened the first clinic in Waterloo, Iowa. In April, the second clinic was opened in Des Moines, Iowa.

"These clinics came into being because we had dedicated physicians who wanted to take care of a population that has been discriminated against and underrepresented in healthcare. It's a shining example of the personalization of care that we can provide," Williams says.

Staff in the clinics receive Safe Zone training, which covers issues such as letting patients choose the pronoun they want to be identified with and overcoming biases, he says.

The clinics are open every two weeks at night. "These are doctors and nurses who work in our regular clinics during the day," Williams says.

There are plans to open several more of the LGBTQ-friendly clinics, he says. "We currently have nine regions in three states. These are the first two LGBTQ clinics, and we will be expanding them to other communities. I have had medical leadership in every one of our regions ask about opportunities to open these clinics."

3. Patient service representative training

In April, UnityPoint initiated "PSR University" to bolster the training of patient service representatives.

These employees play an essential role in patient experience as they are the first people who make contact with patients, such as scheduling appointments and warmly greeting people as they come through the clinic's doors, Williams says.

PSR University, which is a yearlong program, is designed to strengthen the ranks of patient service representatives, he says.

Twenty patient service representatives were selected to participate in the first PSR University class, Williams says.

"We have a cohort of people who can help address patient complaints and do a better job when problems arise. We have them as brand ambassadors and role models in each one of their regions," he says.

The trained patient service representatives also participate in hiring new representatives to ensure that the patient experience culture stays consistent, Williams says.

4. Patient portal

Williams shares three examples of popular capabilities on the health system's MyUnityPoint patient portal that have had a positive impact on patient experience:

  • Online scheduling for primary care visits
  • Access to clinician notes documented in the Epic electronic health record system
  • A "Fast Pass" feature texts patients if an appointment with a specialist becomes available earlier than a scheduled appointment

"The key to our digital transformation is definitely our patient portal. This is where we have built our brand ambassadorship," he says.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


UnityPoint Health has achieved a top 10% patient experience ranking from Press Ganey Associates.

Nurse care managers play a "high touch" role with patients in the health system's readmissions reduction program.

The health system is providing enhanced training to patient service representatives.

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