Fierce Q&A: Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj wants you to give him a call

Windsor Regional Hospital CEO and President David Musyj has taken an unconventional approach to patient and staff communication--he freely gives out his cell and home phone number to the public. Despite what people may think, the Ontario, Canada-based CEO says most of the response is positive. FierceHealthcare spoke with the Hospital Impact contributing blogger on how he does it and why he recommends it for other hospital CEOs.

FierceHealthcare: Hospital CEOs don't typically give out their personal contact information. How did you decide to do it?

David Musyj: I got the idea from a brief comment in a book called The Baptist Healthcare Journey to Excellence.

I started doing it in 2007. That's when I also started sending a welcome letter to every single patient that comes to the hospital. It welcomes the patient to the hospital, explains that we work as a team and talks about our employee recognition program. So if they think the employees are doing something great or going above and beyond, we ask patients to help us recognize that.

And at the end of the letter, I say if there are any issues that patients want to talk to me about, they shouldn't hesitate to call me. I give my email, office number, home number and cell number.

FH: Have you been inundated with phone calls? Do people abuse the fact you are so accessible?

Musyj: People might think you're crazy by giving out all those contact numbers. When I first did it, the staff thought it was a bad idea. They said "You'll never have time to do anything else besides answer the phone." 

It's actually the reverse.

In five years, I've received maybe 10 to 12 phone calls at home. Most, if not all of them, have been positive calls. When I get a positive call about an employee, I loop back with the staff member. When I first say to the staff member, "I received a phone call at home from a patient," they usually look worried. But I say, "Don't worry about it. They raved about you, and I just wanted to personally tell you that."

People do not abuse it.

FH: When you do get a complaint, how do you handle it?

Musyj: You have to make sure that when you do get that call you listen to the concerns. But don't trump and jump over all the procedures you have in place--be it a patient representative, the front-line staff, the supervisors, the directors or your VP. If you do that, you are micromanaging. And the next thing you know is you're the only one in the organization handling complaints.

Nine times out of 10 when I get contacted directly, the patient or the family is maybe unaware of individuals that they can talk to in the hospital so I direct that way and I'll keep in touch.

Keep small issues small. In healthcare, I've noticed that when you ignore small issues, they turn into big issues. If you don't deal with them initially, they become huge and sometimes irreversible.

FH: What's an example of a small issue?

Musyj: One common one is lack of communication. A patient's family member will say, "I don't know what's happening to my mom. No one is talking to me about her care." It's just a lack of information. A lot of times, they feel intimidated, and they just need someone to bridge that gap. So we'll arrange a family conference.

FH: Does Windsor Regional Hospital have a customer service line?

Musyj: Yes, we have a patient representative and we advertise the number on the Internet, in our elevators and all the floors. We have a patient advocate who reports directly to me. That provides comfort to the patients, because they know I'm one step away from the issue and that I'm reachable. If something goes wrong, they can call or or email me again.

FH: A Windsor Star article mentioned that you also always take calls from the Ontario Nurses Association. Do you get more phone calls from patients or staff?

Musyj: Probably more from staff on a daily basis than patients or families. It depends on the day or the week.

I don't trump the labor relations director or human resources director. When I do get a call, sometimes they just want comfort in knowing that I'm aware of something or that I'll look into it and push it along more quickly.

FH: Would you recommend that other hospital CEOs also give out their contact information?

Musyj: Yes, 110 percent. Don't be concerned about being inundated with phone calls; you will not be.

The staff will feel that you've got their back. They know once you've dealt with a few of these, you're not going to micromanage, not going to jump to conclusions, not running up to the staff, saying "How dare you?" You're going to be neutral and say, "How can I help fix the problem?"

FH: And what advice would you give hospital CEOs who are considering it?

Musyj: Don't turn it into a power play. Don't say, "I'm going to solve them all" because you'll be the only one left. But if you create that culture that you're there to help, as an extra set of hands or set of ears, it makes a huge difference. And you'll be shocked at how many compliments you get, too.

When I signed up for this position, I recognized that if the hospital is going to be successful to deliver a caring, compassionate experience for the patient, then I have to do this. I have to be part of that.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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