On the Unexpected Power of Bringing Heart to the Hospital

By Flip the Clinic

Last month, the well-known management expert Gary Hamel wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review. In it, he provided a powerful example of how small shifts can bring about powerful change—without depending upon funding, new technology, or an industry-wide revamping. It began with a story of a health system struggling to improve its abysmal patient satisfaction scores. Despite investing in tracking food quality, call light response times, effectiveness of communication with patients, and other reasonable metrics in its hospitals, the network of facilities wasn’t seeing any improvements.

Investing more money to improve amenities or to bring on extra staff would have both been logical fixes if the health system had the budget to do it. It didn’t.

After considering the problem for a few weeks, the system’s new CEO, Hamel’s brother Dr. Loren Hamel, landed upon an unconventional idea. He decided that every day would be “Bring Your Heart to Work” day.“Every time you interact with a patient, tell them who you are, what you’re there to do, and then share a heartfelt why,” Dr. Hamel explained in the article. “For example, ‘I’m Tom, I’m here change your dressings, ‘cause we want you home in time for your granddaughter’s wedding.’” The CEO explained to employees what success would look like: “You’ll see it in a patient’s smile, you’ll here it their voice, you’ll sense it when they take your hand — and ultimately, you’ll feel it in your own heart.”

Dr. Hamel also made sure that these important moments between a patient and a clinician didn’t just happen and then disappear. He wanted these triumphs to bolster the mood of employees and strengthen the resolve of the entire system. When someone reported this injection of heart into an interaction, a leader in the department would gather nearby coworkers, re-tell the story publicly, and then give the staff member a heart to display on their badge. This ritual ensured that the “heart” in each positive interaction became visible. The staff shared in the positive feeling that comes from truly connecting with someone— from making the health care interaction better.

If you’ve joined a Flip the Clinic Lab or spent much time with us online, you’ll know Hamel’s story strikes a chord. One of Flip the Clinic’s core believes is that a small but important change can make a seismic difference. In fact, it’s written into how we think about Flips. A Flip is a fundamental shift in the way things are done, but what we’ve realized over time is that that shift shouldn’t depend on money, a new technology, or an industry-wide change. We develop ideas that work within the existing system, just as Dr. Hamel did.

Inspired by the Harvard Business Review article, we’d like to share a few Flips that accomplish surprisingly powerful goals without funding or success that depends on a larger systemic change.

Flip #55: Increase Digital Health Record Engagement

In this Flip, a set of patient and staff-facing signs help inform patients that it’s their right to ask for their electronic medical records. The signs explain how staff can support this effort and give permission to patients not used to getting access.

Flip #50: Flip the Script: What’s Your Goal Today?

Let’s replace the first question patients are asked and improve the tone of the entire clinic visit. Instead of asking, “How are you going to pay?” Front desk staff could improve the entire clinic experience by asking, “What is your goal today?”

Flip #41: Give Patients “Think Time” Post-Appointment

Gaps in understanding often strike just after a clinician has walked out the door. Allowing patients a few minutes in the clinic for reflection—with access to someone who could answer follow up questions—would increase patient satisfaction and understanding.

Flip #35: Model the Clinic Like an Apple Store

Empower a nurse to greet patients at the door. These so-called tactical nurses shepherd patients through the check in process and into the exam room or to the lab.

Keeping Hamel’s example in mind, what are your ideas for Flipping the Clinic? Let us know in the comments.