Surveys, social media help N.C. system keep patients engaged

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Open visiting hours, wellness mobile applications and groundbreaking for a new cardiovascular facility are just a few of the ways Rex Healthcare is focusing on patient engagement.

The North Carolina system strives to involve patients in their care from the beginning when they schedule their first appointments, according to Chad Lefteris, Rex Healthcare's vice president of operations (pictured right), in an exclusive interview with FierceHealthcare.

Staff include patients and families in every aspect of their care from treatment decisions and to after discharge.

In addition to feedback through patient surveys and advisory boards, the system, a member of UNC Health Care, also turns to social media to engage patients.

"We interact with patients in a variety of ways, outside of social media and also through specific apps to engage patients and families," Lefteris said. 

One mobile application, designed for cancer patients, provides information about the disease, helps them keep track of appointments, and allows them to virtually try on different wigs if they lose their hair. And hundreds of current and former cancer patients have access to a private Facebook group, where they can share information about treatments, their experiences and offer support to one another.

Another app allows members of Rex's five wellness centers to access schedules of classes, trainers, events and educational sessions.

Patients were also the inspiration for a new cardiovascular tower and procedural area, set to break ground in 2014. Heart and cardiovascular patients and their families met to brainstorm and provided the hospital with a wish list and suggestions on how the hospital can improve its care.

Lefteris said one reason for building the new 300,000 square foot expansion is that cardiac care services are currently spread across seven different locations. The new building will have all services under one roof, making it more convenient and accessible to patients, he said.

"It goes back to satisfaction," Lefteris said. "Instead of going to multiple locations, this will make it easier for patients and their families because everything is housed in one location from procedures to inpatient stays and even follow up cardiac rehab, with an accessible parking deck next door."

The hospital strives to solicit feedback from patients every day and act on the suggestions. 

For example, when families and patients in the hospital's intensive care unit complained about limited visiting hours, the organization expanded the hours. "We have open visitation hours and the response has been great. Family members don't have to leave, they realize they can stay with their loved ones and not run in and out," he said, adding that although the hospital doesn't announce an end to visiting hours on the overhead speakers, staff try to be aware of patients who may want their visitors to leave.

Rex's patient satisfaction efforts began several years ago when patients complained about the hospital food, according to Alan Wolf, the system's media relations manager. As a result of the feedback, the hospital started a "black hat chef program," which trained chefs how to cook for patients, visitors and coworkers. Food is prepared using local produce and the hospital's own herb garden. Chefs can prepare low-salt or no-salt entrees for patients using fresh herbs to marinate chicken. And coffee is now ground and roasted in the morning, and served to patients in an actual coffee mug.

While a good cup of coffee won't cure a patient's illness, Wolf noted, it can make a patient feel better. "For a moment, you forget you are in a hospital," he said.

Patients appear to appreciate the effort. Rex Healthcare earned a 75 percent in overall patient satisfaction in its HCAHPS scores compared to the national average of 67 percent. And 82 percent of patients said they'd recommend it compared to the national average of 69 percent.

In addition, Rex Hospital, a 665-bed acute care facility in Raleigh, recently ranked number one in the North Carolina Patient Engagement Index based on an analysis of publicly available data for personal health management, patient satisfaction and social media engagement.

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