Mercy Health’s Continuous Improvement Through Two Patient Advisory Councils
Mercy Health is known for its outstanding patient-centered care. Over the years, our organization has relied on the candid feedback from our patients to help us make continuous improvements to care delivery. In Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Mercy Health has formed patient councils that offer advice to our leaders and make proposals of their own about ways to improve health care.
Mercy Health Physician Partners Patient Advisory Council (PAC) consists of members who meet bimonthly in Grand Rapids. The name of the overarching council in Muskegon is the Mercy Health Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC), which meets monthly.
As volunteers, council members tackle tough topics and engage in honest, respectful discussions as they offer invaluable suggestions for improvement. What follows are two examples of improved customer service made possible, in part, by our that our dedicated council members, for whom we are truly grateful.
Improving Customer Service in the Wege Lab at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s
In 2014, Mercy Health Physician Partners Patient Advisory Council member Ralph Simone (pictured below left) brought to the attention of the council a disconnect in quality of service that he personally experienced as a patient.
Self-described as a “frequent flyer” when it comes to receiving medical care, Simone was pleased with the compassionate, high-quality, personalized care he received from all of his Mercy Health doctors — including his primary care physician, pulmonologist, orthopedic surgeon and other specialists.
But when it came to getting lab work completed at Mercy Health, Simone was frustrated.
“I had bad experiences when having blood drawn at the Wege Lab. I had to wait a long time because there were not enough staff. While waiting, other people were called before me when they came in after me. There was no way of knowing when you’d be called and where you were in line.”
Simone’s concern was limited to the process in the waiting area. “The staff was great once you went in to complete the labs. They know what they are doing and try to make the experience as pleasant as possible.”
Recognizing this “problem” as a great opportunity for improvement, Senior Analyst for Strategic Planning Teresa Dittmer — who serves as facilitator of the council — made Simone’s concerns known to Wege Lab Manager Stacie Strong. Stacie initiated immediate changes that have led to positive results for all patients visiting the lab.
Because Wege Lab is Mercy Health’s busiest lab by volume, Strong was aware that wait times were a concern. “Our goal is always to have 95 percent of patients waiting less than 20 minutes, but we were nowhere near that goal at that time.”
Strong ensured that the lab employees received extensive customer service training and were held to high standards, with coaching available after the training. “We also worked on process improvement, refining our operations during the course of a year,” she said. Comment cards were made available to patients so staff could receive direct feedback about the service they provided.
Simone couldn’t be happier. “The change came very fast — it took less than two months. Since I shared my experience with the council, I’ve seen more staff and a sign-in process that formalizes the patient’s place in line.”
These days, Strong receives positive feedback from patients that include voicemail messages complimenting the lab staff on their courtesy and service.
“I continue to be a member of the MHPP Patient Advisory Council because we make a difference for the patients, and sometimes even for the physicians and for the staff.”
Improving Customer Service Through the Meds-to-Go Program
Ron Jenkins (pictured below), charter member of the Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) in Muskegon, has a passion for making life the best it can be for residents of the lakeshore community.
When it comes to local health care, Jenkins has shared with the PFAC valuable lessons he learned in the past while seeking care for his aging parents. He’s on a mission to effect positive change at Mercy Health.
“At one point, the best thing for my mom’s health was to go to Cleveland Clinic. Once we got there, I saw that there was a better way to do things here,” said Jenkins.
Determined to do all he could to “make my Cleveland Clinic right at home,” Jenkins considers his membership on the PFAC sacred. He is an ordained deacon at his church and often ministers to the sick. One of the changes Jenkins wanted to see was a way for hospital patients to take medications home with them upon discharge.
Whenever his mom was discharged from a hospital, Jenkins would accompany her during discharge and then drive straight to a pharmacy. “I’d drop off the prescription, and then we’d either sit in the parking lot waiting for it to be filled or ride around and do other errands. I did this before taking my mom home so my mom would have peace of mind knowing she had access to her medications immediately,” he said.
Jenkins wasn’t comfortable dropping off his mother at home first — leaving her unattended — and then going to the pharmacy. He wanted to keep his eye on her as she transitioned home, as any caretaker would.
Knowing that he wasn’t the only person who had had this inconvenient experience, Jenkins discussed this topic with the council, whose members immediately agreed that it was a challenge to address.
Director of Pharmacy Services Ifedapo Michael Sonuga, PharmD, MBA, asked Mercy Health Director of Service Excellence and Facilitator of the PFAC Mary Carlson, MSN, RN, if he could attend a PFAC meeting.
As Sonuga explained to the council, there had been a ‘Bedside Medication Delivery’ program since 2008, but it became clear that the pharmacy department hadn’t spread the word effectively. “Not many patients and colleagues were aware that we provided this service on both campuses,” said Sonuga.
Sonuga shared information about the program and sought the council’s validation and feedback about whether such a program was truly valuable to patients and families. “The main feedback provided by the group,” said Sonuga, “was that we needed to create more visibility of the program.”
Renamed “Meds-to-Go,” this program does precisely what Jenkins and other PFAC council members had hoped: Upon discharge, patients are able to be sent home from the hospital with the medications they need.
“Being on the PFAC, I have seen gradual changes and improvement…people are listening,” Jenkins said. “For me, being on the council is the right thing to do because we’re speaking up on behalf of people whose voices may otherwise not be heard.”