IOWA CITY — After three years, the Disney Institute approach has filtered across the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Big and little changes can be seen in the design of new buildings, new roles called service ambassadors, a recognition and reward approach to management and a lowering of decision-making authority closer to the front line of service.
“It’s the little things that make the difference,” said Michael Brownlee, UI’s chief pharmacy officer, who serves as chairman of UIHC’s service and operational excellence council.
“If you think you have to (go) the extra mile all the time, there’s cases where that’s too much. We say, ‘go the extra inch.’ because all of us doing the little things adds up to something great.”
The institute, which was offered last week for the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids business communities through the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, is a division of Walt Disney Co. that teaches Disney strategies to improve business and customer service success.
UIHC began using the Disney Institute in 2011 with three training sessions per year.
After backlash to an initial proposal to send a leadership group to Walt Disney World, UIHC decided to bring trainers to campus.
About 8,000 staff members have participated in Disney seminars, at a cost of $665,315. The goal is to train all employees, and with turnover, there’s about 2,000 staff members remaining.
At the Iowa River Landing clinic in Coralville, which opened in 2012, the whole building was designed with the Disney approach in mind. The patients only ever see the front 60 percent of the building. In those areas, the focus is on the patients.
The rest of the building is offstage, an area where the medical staff can focus without concern about disrupting patients, and the hustle and bustle of printers and analysis can occur.
All patient exam rooms were built with two doors. Patients enter one door coming from the waiting room, and the medical staff come from the other, from their private workspace. The rooms also are buffered for sound.
For patients, the design eliminates parts of a hospital they don’t need to see and alleviates some of the stress.
“I have more confidence in working with staff and not thinking patients are listening,” said Dr. Rami Boutros, a pediatrician. “And, you can pay attention to your patient and not 15 other people.”
The new children’s hospital, which is under construction, is another example of Disney techniques infused into design.
Scott Turner, executive director of the children’s hospital, said the massive building was designed with input from staff, parents and kids.
There will be two sets of elevators — one for patients and the other for staff. Patient rooms will have refrigerators, to allow patients and family to store food overnight, and also blackout shades.
They also are building a respite area, specifically for parents who need a quiet moment.
“It’s a quiet space, independent of the lounge and outside of the patient rooms,” Turner said.
The philosophy goes well beyond building design, though.
Simple things like picking up a piece of trash, helping a patient find the right bus, or walking someone to their appointment can make all the difference, Brownlee said.
“Patients respond better when their stress level is lower,” he said.
Brownlee said the success of the Disney program can be seen in UIHC’s improving patient satisfaction numbers.
Survey data from Press Ganey, which UIHC contracts to gauge patient satisfaction, shows recommendation rates from adult inpatients have increased from 88 percent in 2010 to 90.5 percent this year.
According to a 2011 USA Today article, citing federal data, Iowa had improved its patient satisfaction scores, based on a 1 to 100 scale, from the 20s to 67. The latest federal data shows UIHC’s rate of patients who’d recommend the hospital is now 78 percent, and 72 percent gave the hospital top possible scores.
Still, the federal data from Medicare.gov indicates UIHC lags behind state and national averages on several patient satisfaction fronts, including communication from doctors and nurses, cleanliness and quiet.
Brownlee said UIHC has been happy with the Disney relationship, but now that most staff have been trained, officials are looking for a step two. It could come in the form of smaller, more specialized trainings, likely geared to management, Brownlee said.
“We’ve created a structure here around service excellence,” Brownlee said.
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