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Dome - Suburban Hospital's Power Huddles: A Win-Win

Dome March 2013

Suburban Hospital's Power Huddles: A Win-Win

Date: March 1, 2013

Face-to-face contact at huddles produces a bond not possible with emails, says one active participant.
Face-to-face contact at huddles produces a bond not possible with emails, says one active participant.

Daily meetings tackle—and often resolve—patient care problems in real time.

As any football coach will tell you, huddles are pivotal to ensuring that players receive clear instructions for their next play. Similarly, in the hospital setting, brief, focused meetings, also called huddles, are gaining traction to address daily patient care issues.

In April 2012, Suburban Hospital embraced the huddles concept. Every day, representatives from executive level staff, nursing and ancillary departments that intersect—like Environmental Services and Nutrition—come together for 15 to 20 minutes to discuss feedback from patients. “It’s very focused and effective rounding,” says Barbara Jacobs, Suburban’s senior director of nursing. “We’re trying to capture the patient experience.”

The list of concerns runs the gamut: One patient is upset because the system won’t allow her to order a third cup of coffee. Another patient, who experienced a long wait in the emergency department, finally got the last available bed, only to discover that his roommate became confused and agitated at night. And one family reported that a hand sanitizer dispenser in their room was empty. 

At the heart of any response to these complaints, says Jacobs, is “lots of apologizing.” Then, a plan is hatched to address the problem that very day.

In the case of food preferences, nutritional assistants visit patients to express regret and inquire about specific requests.

 For the patient whose roommate suffered confusion, there was no other bed immediately available, but in the interim, a patient advocate bearing a plant came in to talk to him. “He was surprised at how attentive we were,” says Jacobs.

And because nurses had no clarity about whether Environmental Services or Facilities should handle gel dispensers, at a recent huddle, both departments’ representatives agreed that either of them could fix the problem.

All of this is proof, says Jacobs, that even small gestures help patients feel that their needs are being addressed. At the same time, the benefits to staff are undeniable. “Nursing directors don’t feel like they’re in this alone,” she says. And it also helps everyone recognize that contributions to patient satisfaction come from all quarters—like a facilities person who fixes an overflowing toilet. “It’s making a huge difference,” says Jacobs, “in how we work together as a team.”

Joe Linstrom, senior director of diagnostic and support operations, agrees: “The huddles are very productive, in that we’re dealing with issues in real time.” In the beginning, he admits, some employees were sensitive to what they perceived as criticism.  But the face-to-face contact has created an “automatic bond” not possible with emails: “You can’t read body language or frustration in an email.” That’s why when Linstrom spots staff members who seem unhappy during a huddle, he’ll seek them out afterward to discuss lingering concerns.

Since the focused meetings became mandatory, patient satisfaction scores have improved in every realm. Jacobs, however, cautions that it’s too soon to report a lasting impact. Still, anecdotally, team members at all levels say patients—and staff—seem much happier. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before,” says Linstrom. “[The huddles] were fairly easy to implement, and now people welcome them.”

—Judy F. Minkove