One morning before her rounds in the Department of Medicine, Tiffany Stokes, a patient experience concierge at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, stopped to buy flowers for someone she had gotten to know well. “I have a patient who has been here since July,” Stokes says. “Today is his birthday.”
Acknowledging a patient’s birthday is more than good manners; it is therapeutic, says Stokes, one of three patient experience concierges assigned to the Medicine, Oncology and Emergency departments. It “is significant to his overall healing. I’m someone who sees him as a whole person, who makes sure his human needs are met—not just his medical needs.” The patient’s family members were not at his bedside thatday but were pleased to know he didn’t spend his birthday alone.
Stokes and the other concierges, Josh Alperstein and Kate Pisano, were tapped by the Department of Service Excellence to become troubleshooters on the front lines of care at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Since March, the trio has helped patients become acclimated to the hospital, responding to their needs and complaints as they arise. Their duties can range from providing an extra blanket to asking a physician to explain a diagnosis in layman’s terms. All are “warm and empathetic, and problem solvers,” says Lisa Allen, chief patient experience officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The patient experience concierge program launched in departments where scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) inpatient survey need the most improvement. In the Emergency Department, “we’re dealing with an eight- to 12-hour wait to get to a gurney,” says Alperstein, previously an assessment specialist at the Johns Hopkins Broadway Center for Addiction. Add to that a daunting variety of patients, from “gunshot victims to the man from out of town dying from cancer to the lady from down the street who hasn’t managed her diabetes well,” and it’s easy to see why tempers flare and complaints multiply.
When patients don’t know what to expect, anxiety and stress readily escalate, Allen says. “One of the things the concierges do is help keep patients informed and tell them what’s going to happen next.”
To restore disgruntled Emergency Department patients’ faith in their care teams, Alperstein listens to her concerns, apologizes for not being able to address their needs as promptly as they wish and explains what to expect while waiting for a hospital bed.
During her previous years as clinical customer service coordinator in Bloomberg 9 South, Stokes learned an invaluable lesson. “Patients don’t get very long to speak,” she says. “When I first meet a patient, I always ask first if I can sit down, even if I don’t have long to stay. Then, after explaining my role, I attentively listen, allowing the patient time to express her needs and concerns.”
Shortly after the concierge program launched, patient experience improved for patients admitted through the Emergency Department; HCAHPS scores reflected this. Then, the experience scores temporarily dipped during implementation of the Epic electronic medical records system, when staff members were preoccupied with their computer screens and system bugs slowed down processes, such as care transitions and medication delivery. Overall, the concierge program has buoyed patient experience at the hospital. Take this compliment, for example, from the sister of a patient assisted by Alperstein: “He was a great listener, professional and trustworthy.”