How managing your email inbox can improve patient care

Being responsive conveys respect, says one of the country's best-known hospital CEOs, right down to how quickly leaders respond to emails.

Emailing directly with physicians, staff and even volunteers for the large San Diego-based Scripps Health healthcare system also gives chief executive Chris Van Gorder "information I could never get in a report or probably even in a group discussion," he told Becker's Hospital Review. Replying personally--and quickly--to those emails is part of adhering to the Scripps Health's core value of responsiveness, he says.

It's just one more way in which Van Gorder is rewriting the rulebook for being a successful hospital executive.

He is widely credited with turning around the performance of the once-failing $2.6 billion integrated healthcare system, increasing profits more than 1,200 percent while cutting turnover by half. Among his innovations: a no-layoff policy, a "Physician Leadership Cabinet" giving doctors more say in leadership recommendations and a horizontal management structure that saved money by standardizing practices across the system's five hospitals.

The former police officer (and hospital security guard and ER clerk, among other roles) also walks the beat on Fridays to connect directly with team members on the front lines. He's building relationships that help the system's 14,000 employees feel more comfortable asking him questions and expressing concerns, Van Gorder previously told FierceHealthcare in an interview.

"I explain the bigger picture so I can explain why decisions are being made," he said in the interview, adding "it's also a great deal of fun. When I go in the field and talk to patients and the employees doing important work, it's a great motivator for me as well."

One employee he met through a program that gave staff an opportunity to connect directly with Van Gorder still emails him daily--and he responds personally to each one. Arby Bautista, a secretary on a patient floor in Scripps Mercy Hospital, previously told FierceHealthcare that she initially emailed him to thank him for interacting with employees through the program. She was delighted when he emailed her back.

"It only takes a couple of seconds" to respond, Van Gorder told FierceHealthcare.

After that first exchange, she began emailing him daily to wish him a good day, she said. And Van Gorder says he worries if he doesn't hear from her.

For more:
-here's the Becker's article
-read FierceHealthcare's interview with Van Gorder
-see the article about Bautista