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Tickling Their Fancy
A Sesame Street favorite puts a fresh spin on service excellence.

Tickle Me Elmo Extreme, flanked by (from left) Meyer 8's clinical associate Mary James, nurse manager Linda Huffman, R.N.s Kenneth Luk and Merle Joves Amparo, and support associate Sharon Green.

When Linda Huffman, Meyer 8’s nurse manager, heard about a competition involving a certain Sesame Street character, she thought it might have a transformative effect on her unit, which last fall showed a patient satisfaction score of only 16 percent. So she spoke to her staff about how they might improve their interactions with patients.

“It’s often the little things that get us into trouble,” Huffman says, like patients reporting that their call light didn’t get answered, or they had to tell three people the same thing. One patient, for example, liked to have ice water often. “I told the staff that we should strive to bring in that ice water before the patient even asks for it. Now that’s customer service.”
Following instructions like those, Meyer 8 earned a turn with Tickle Me Elmo Extreme, a traveling mascot for patient satisfaction that’s coveted by all 45 inpatient units at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“Our Elmo’s a traveling trophy,” explains Becky Zuccarelli, service excellence director, who came up with the idea as part of a quarterly awards program she launched last November. Every quarter, the service excellence department hosts a recognition event for those units demonstrating improvement or meeting patient satisfaction scores. Those with the most improved patient satisfaction score receive a framed poem and the Tickle Me Elmo Extreme doll, which stays on that unit for three months. “A healthy competition is under way,” says Zuccarelli, “and everyone’s having fun with the concept.”

“It’s very silly and so not Hopkins,” says Stacey Baldwin, service excellence senior project administrator. “But usually we’re so focused on the technical piece that we forget about the importance of positive interactions with patients day to day. We need to pay more attention to the frontline staff and celebrate their success.” That includes support associates, environmental services staff, admitting personnel, as well as nurses and clinical associates, she says. So far, Elmo awardees have included Marburg 3, Nelson 7, Meyer 8 and Osler 4—his latest stop.    

On Osler 4, in fact, service excellence scores rose from the fifth percentile to the 45th. Nurse manager Kelly Caslin attributes their success to several new practices, including daily “clinical expediter” patient rounds and scripting—reminding staff to ask patients, “Is there anything else I can do for you before I go?” At the same time, employees at all levels are complimented regularly. “Getting everyone to appreciate the value of teamwork,” says Caslin, “is critical.”

Those efforts—and the desire to win Elmo—have paid off. Meyer 8 more than tripled its patient satisfaction scores, to 60 percent. Says Huffman, “Elmo generates a lot of laughter, and when people laugh at work, it makes it easier for them to like their jobs.”

The icing on the cake, says Baldwin, is that each unit is giving Elmo its own spin. Meyer 8, for example, gave him a Nursing Magnet pin, and Huffman started a journal and photo scrapbook for him. In it, a ghostwriter chronicles the unit’s gatherings and milestones.

Now other units will have the chance to document Elmo’s (read: the team’s) experiences. “We couldn’t have come up with this message on our own,” says Baldwin, “and it wouldn’t have been nearly as meaningful.” Adds Zuccarelli, “It just goes to show that we can recognize people and have fun without spending a lot of money.”





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