Patient experience training brings ‘Heart’ to Rouge Valley

A kind word, a smile, or a listening ear can make all the difference in turning a potentially difficult hospital experience, into a positive one. Thanks to a new, enhanced patient experience training program, all 3,500 of Rouge Valley Health System’s (RVHS) staff, physicians and volunteers are learning to take their already strong customer service skills to the next level.

The program is called Communicate with Heart and was developed by the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. To date, RVHS has focused on two sections of the program:

  • START With Heart - This part of the program provides patient-focused customer service training focused on practical skills and tools staff can use as a behavioural standard for all patient and family interactions; and
  • Respond with Heart - This section of the program focuses on effective conflict resolution, and teaches the skills needed to make that possible. Staff members are given the tools they need to effectively address the patient’s concerns, preventing escalations. The program empowers staff to communicate with their colleagues, patients, and families in a caring and compassionate manner.

The interactive workshops bring staff from all areas across the hospital together to learn and practice the skills in small groups, using actual situations, role-playing, and group discussion. The START With Heart customer service training workshops ran from May to November, with nearly all staff, physicians and volunteers at Rouge Valley receiving the training. The Respond With Heart training is expected to run from January to June. More than 30 Rouge Valley staff members have been trained by Cleveland Clinic representatives to deliver the workshops.

“Our vision at Rouge Valley is to be the best at what we do. Our staff have truly embraced that vision, and it’s been at the core of our interaction with each of our patients,” explains Michele James, vice president of quality and transformation at Rouge Valley. “Our enhanced patient experience training will help to provide our staff with the tools they need to deliver even stronger care, helping us to truly live out our vision to be the best, and that includes creating the best patient experience.”

While the Communicate With Heart program was designed by the Cleveland Clinic for their own workforce, it has been modified to reflect Rouge Valley’s Patient Declaration of Values and Strategic Plan – two key directives that articulate the hospital’s commitment on how care is delivered, and how patients are to be treated at Rouge Valley. 

START stands for:
• Smile and greet warmly; 
• Tell your name, role and what to expect;
• Active listening and assist;
• Rapport and relationship building; and
• Thank the person.
 
Here are five things you can do to demonstrate empathy to a patient. 

1. Focus
Focus on the person, and eliminate all the distraction around you.

2. Listen
Listen for the facts and emotions.

3. Paraphrase
Repeat what the person says to confirm that you heard the details of what they said.

4. Acknowledge their emotions
Pick up on what their emotions are.  By saying something like, “You seem a little upset,” you can show your customer that you are paying attention. 

5. Ask what you can do
Find out exactly what they need you to do to provide the right solution.

Many healthcare facilities may not consider offering customer service training for staff. But organizational learning manager Bill Hamilton explains that making excellent customer service the standard only enhances the patient experience.

“The service you receive from a healthcare facility is more than just the technical aspects; it’s also about the hospital experience.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it,” he explains. “When people come to the hospital, they’re often stressed and anxious. They are more sensitive to how they’re treated, so it’s important that we show them empathy and respect.”  As one former patient put it, “before I care how much you know, I need to know how much you care.”

In all, it is expected to take between 12 to 18 months to fully launch the program and train all staff, physicians and volunteers. It is also part of a five-year sustainability plan to ensure that behaviours taught in the program are being recognized, while areas identified for improvement can receive coaching.  Rouge Valley took the opportunity to make START With Heart the theme of its recent annual Patient Appreciation Day on Nov. 14. On that day, leaders throughout the hospital spoke to approximately 250 patients to get their direct feedback on how well hospital staff members were doing in implementing the START With Heart behaviours.

Not only do patients and their families benefit from a positive hospital experience, but staff, physicians and volunteers can also feel reassured that the care they are giving – beyond their expert training – has made all the difference to someone undergoing a serious medical procedure or receiving care.


Akilah Dressekie is the Senior Communications Specialist at Rouge Valley Health System.  This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of Hospital News.