Customer Outcomes = Veterans’ Outcomes

Earlier this week, we talked about the steps VA is taking to improve access to care for Veterans nationwide. One of the moves involves renewing our commitment to customer service. Last week, VA Secretary Robert McDonald stated that customer outcomes are Veterans’ outcomes, and “if we fail at serving Veterans, we fail.”

With that in mind, VA recognizes 10 key principles that will lead to a successful customer service experience. While these are specific to VA as an organization, most can be applied across professions and industries:

10 Key Principles that Lead to a Successful Customer Experience

  1. Leaders create and model an attitude of serving.
  2. Expectations of serving flow throughout the organization.
  3. Expectations of serving are measured throughout the organization.
  4. Courtesy, competence and quality are baseline.
  5. Every interaction leaves an impression – positive, negative or neutral.
  6. Hire for attitude; train for skills.
  7. Empower and support employees to do whatever it takes.
  8. Build every interaction and relationship around the patient.
  9. Service recovery; getting it VERY right the second time.
  10. Deliver care as a single, unified experience.

Taking time to connect as a team is vital to our success as an organization.

Customer service may seem easy and natural, but it’s a business process that requires hard work, competent leadership, and a dedication to seeing it through.

What do you think about customer service in health care? Do these principles resonate? In your own professional life, as employee or manager, have you had to uphold one or more of these principles in order to improve your customer service attitude? Let us know in the comments!

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Hospital at Home – An Innovative Health Care Model

In her new role, Dr. Carolyn Clancy has been communicating her experiences and observations as VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health in weekly internal messages. Her memos underline one of the main goals we have at VA Careers, which is to focus on the important work VA does to advance health care in the U.S., and how vital our employees are to that mission. Read her latest message below:

Every day in the VA health care system, our dedicated employees identify new approaches to addressing issues that stand in the way of providing the best possible care to Veterans. In fact, many of them actively seek out these innovations in the name of Veteran-focused care.

The late Dr. Scott Mader was one such employee. He had a passion for working with Veterans and the committed staff at the Portland VA Medical Center, where he served as an administrator, researcher and clinician before succumbing to cancer last year. Under the leadership of Dr. Mader, Portland became the first VA facility to try out a pioneering health care delivery model called Hospital at Home, which allows patients who need acute hospital-level care to receive that care in their own homes.

Hospital at Home is a modern-day version of the house call. In addition to daily in-home visits from physicians and nurses, patients admitted to Hospital at Home can call providers any time, day or night, and they have access to laboratory and other needed services in the home setting. If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you likely would have preferred to receive treatment in the comfort and familiarity of your home, if that had been an option. Dr. Mader knew most of his patients would have agreed, so he was eager to have the Portland VAMC participate with several other clinical sites in a national demonstration study led by Dr. Bruce Leff, who developed the Hospital at Home model at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The study found that the in-home model met quality standards at rates similar to the acute hospital. Costs were also lower, and patient satisfaction was higher.

More than a decade later, a modified version of the model from the study is still in use at the Portland VAMC. The model has also been adopted at numerous other VA sites, such as the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, and most notably the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, where it was launched after the New Orleans VA Medical Center was flooded and rendered inoperable in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Hospital at Home model is expected to continue spreading throughout the VA health care system. It is exactly the kind of innovative approach to delivering health care that will help us achieve positive outcomes for Veterans, one Veteran at a time.

CAROLYN M. CLANCY, MD

clancymdCarolyn Clancy, M.D., was named Interim Under Secretary for Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, on July 2, 2014. As Interim Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Clancy oversees the health care needs of millions of Veterans enrolled in VHA, the United States’ largest integrated health care system, with more than 1700 sites, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and Readjustment Counseling Centers. Dr. Clancy, a general internist and health services researcher, is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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4 Things VA is Doing Right Now to Improve Access to Care

While we pride ourselves on the high quality of care that Veterans receive at VA, we are always striving for ways to improve on a national scale. Read on for the top things VA is doing now to improve access for Veterans everywhere.

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1. Greeters Help Patients, Prevent Delays in Care

As a way of improving the patient experience and promoting a culture of service, an increasing number of VA facilities are using employees and volunteers to greet Veterans and actively watch for potential delays in a Veteran’s care.

Rick Williams, a Marine Corps and Army Veteran, greets and assists Veterans at the VA Butler Healthcare Center. Here, he shares how his role as an Information Specialist makes a difference:

“I feel my greatest contribution to VA Butler is giving respect, care, and a voice for our fellow Veterans. I ensure that they check in and are escorted to their appointments in a timely manner. Most of all, I ensure that they have a positive and fun experience while at VA Butler Healthcare Center.”

2. Put the Customer First, Always

During the AMVETS National Conference, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald emphasized the role of VA as a customer-service organization. He said:

“At VA, we are going to judge the success of our individual and collective efforts against a single metric – customer outcomes, Veterans’ outcomes.”

Creating and sustaining a culture of service is a daunting task. It requires strong, clear leadership, specific and personalized plans, communication and measurement that makes sense, and a shared commitment throughout the organization.

3. Report Progress, Track Results

VA is posting wait-time data updates on a bi-monthly basis to show our progress on our efforts to accelerate access to quality health care for Veterans who have been waiting for appointments.

On August 14, 2014, VA posted the latest data update on the VA Access Audit page.

4. Review and Renew

In Phoenix, Secretary McDonald announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs has initiated an independent, nation-wide review of all scheduling practices at VA medical facilities. In his first trip as Secretary, McDonald also announced a series of additional actions to improve Veterans’ access to timely, quality health care following a series of meetings with Veterans and employees at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Read more.

(The above information was repurposed from The Access Advisor newsletter, produced for VHA employees by the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management and VHA Office of Communications.)

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Did you hear who visited the Palo Alto VA yesterday?

On Thursday, August 21, Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a visit to the Palo Alto VA hospital. He came for a check-up—not for himself, but to see first hand the ways in which VA physicians and health care professionals are using his company’s technology to improve and advance care for Veterans. He even tweeted about it!

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Apple CEO Tim Cook talks with VA employees in Palo Alto

Since 2013, the Palo Alto hospital and other VA facilities nationwide have rolled out iPad programs and mobile apps to aid the Veteran patient experience from initial scheduling through the conclusion of the appointment. With this type of technology, clinicians are able to write progress notes, enter orders, and complete other clinical tasks quickly and efficiently, allowing for more time for meaningful interaction with Veteran patients.

The iPad program is part of a greater commitment to leverage the power of mobile technology and builds on the success of programs including My HealtheVet and VA Blue Button. VA, and specifically the initiatives and pilot programs within Mobile Health, is dedicated to improving the health of Veterans by providing technologies that expand clinical care beyond the traditional office visit.

To learn more about the iPad program, visit VA Mobile Health.

If you are a health care provider and you’re interested in learning how you can contribute your skills and innovative thinking to advance Veteran care, visit VAcareers.va.gov.

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Lauren’s Story, Part 10: Third Trimester Update

Written by: Lauren – Guest Blogger sharing her perspective as a VA employee and patient during her second pregnancy.

Hello! Baby Hunter and I are doing well. I am 31 weeks and definitely starting to feel the aches and pains of the third trimester. My glucose test for gestational diabetes was normal, which is awesome but apparently I developed anemia so I have been taking gross iron pills.

The baby is growing like a champ, so he is measuring a little big. I should tell you that my first son was born at a whopping 10 pounds, 12.8 ounces, so my midwives and I are discussing the possibilities of me having another large baby. On one hand, I am not scared because I had no complications with my first son’s delivery and I know that if I had one large baby, I can do it again. On the other hand, I will admit I am a little anxious.

lauren_3trimester

Healthy mom, healthy baby.

One thing I have going for me is I have not gained as much weight as I did with my first son. I gained 75 pounds with him, and so far with this one I have gained 22. Most of it probably has to do with my diet. I still crave some sweet things, and I occasionally indulge, but I have been very good about packing my lunch and trying to make more balanced dinners at home. We will see how that lasts as I start losing more and more energy this trimester! Either way, I feel like I have been eating a lot healthier than I did my last pregnancy.

My social worker has still been calling to check up on me, which I really appreciate. It’s nice to know that my care team is monitoring me for how things are going even though I haven’t physically seen them since I have been pregnant.

All in all, even though I am exhausted and preparing for the baby, I feel like this pregnancy is going by very quickly. I will check in at 36 weeks and will let you know if I still feel that way!

About Lauren

lauren_wLauren is a Navy Veteran and current Public Affairs Specialist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia. Throughout her second pregnancy, she will be sharing her thoughts and experiences as a patient at VA. We are all excited to follow her on this healthcare journey!

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The Importance of Listening to Veteran Patients

In her new role, Dr. Carolyn Clancy has been communicating her experiences and observations as VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health in weekly internal messages. Her memos underline one of the main goals we have at VA Careers, which is to focus on the important work VA does to advance health care in the U.S., and how vital our employees are to that mission. Read her latest message below:

Earlier this month, I had the honor of attending the historic ceremony at which President Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act into law. This law will give us the additional funding and support we need to provide timely, high-quality health care to Veterans. I invited two headquarters employees who are also Veterans to accompany me to the signing ceremony. During the car ride down from Washington, D.C., to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where the ceremony took place, I had the chance to talk with and get to know my guests. The experience both inspired me and reminded me how important it is to listen to the Veterans we serve.

Listening to patients is a relatively new concept in health care. Many health care systems have established patient and family advisory councils as an effective mechanism for receiving and responding to input from the customers they serve.

In some ways, our health care system is ahead of the curve on listening to patients because of our strong partnerships with the nation’s Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs). Their contributions to the VA reform discussions that have taken place on Capitol Hill and across the nation in recent months have been invaluable in shaping the way forward. Many of the volunteers at our facilities—our priceless assets—are active members of VSOs and a helpful source of feedback on how we are doing, if we ask and are willing to listen.

Listening to Veterans will be essential as we work to transform VA into their health care provider of choice. And if we really want to improve our system and regain the trust of Veterans, we not only need to listen to their concerns, thoughts and ideas, we need to actively involve them in implementing change. The town hall meetings our facilities will be hosting across the country over the next few weeks will give us a formal opportunity to hear directly and learn from the Veterans we serve. The importance of listening to Veterans, whether we do that through public, group forums such as these town hall meetings, or through the many private, day-to-day encounters with our patients, cannot be overstated. This is not the time to get complacent and assume we know what Veterans want and need. The only way we can truly know what Veterans want and need is to ask them—and listen.

 

CAROLYN M. CLANCY, MD

clancymdCarolyn Clancy, M.D., was named Interim Under Secretary for Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, on July 2, 2014. As Interim Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Clancy oversees the health care needs of millions of Veterans enrolled in VHA, the United States’ largest integrated health care system, with more than 1700 sites, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and Readjustment Counseling Centers. Dr. Clancy, a general internist and health services researcher, is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

 

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#ALSicebucketchallenge and VA

If you’re on Facebook or have watched TV in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen your friends and a lot of public figures posting videos of themselves dumping ice water on their heads. Ever since the challenge originated, the #ALSicebucketchallenge has escalated from social media feeds to become a viral sensation, spreading awareness of and raising donations for the fight against ALS.

Peter Frates, 29, is a former Boston College baseball star and inspiration behind the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Pictured here with friends and family.

Peter Frates, 29, is a former Boston College baseball star and inspiration behind the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Pictured here with friends and family.

For researchers, physicians, caregivers, and those fighting the disease, this awareness campaign is nothing short of incredible. Fundraising is up over $6 million from the same timeframe last year, from existing donors and thousands of new supporters. At VA, we find it particularly inspiring, as Veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS than the general population.

Recognizing ALS as a service-connected disease, the Department of Veterans Affairs has made it a top priority to provide care and access to benefits for Veterans, and provides financial and medical support to those with at least 90 continuous days of military service.

Just before the ice bucket challenge went viral, an article appeared earlier this summer in the Raleigh, NC News & Observer, highlighting Veterans who suffer from ALS. In the piece, Suzanne Gilroy, a senior social work manager for the North Carolina chapter of the ALS Association commented:

“I tell people there are two different worlds for people with ALS. There’s the one for people who are veterans, and the one for everybody else. The veterans get taken care of.”

The ALS team at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System serves a multi-disciplinary specialty clinic for Veterans with ALS.

The ALS team at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System serves a multi-disciplinary specialty clinic for Veterans with ALS.

If you’re a health care provider with a passion to serve this Veteran population and others, visit VAcareers.va.gov to learn more about a career at VA.

Further reading on VA’s history with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Paralyzed Veterans of America

VA.gov

ALSA.org

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VA: A History of Turning Challenges in to Opportunities

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health, recently penned an inspiring note to VA employees. Her memo underlines one of the main goals we have at VA Careers, which is to focus on the important work VA does to advance health care in the U.S., and how vital our employees are to that mission. Read her message below:

We have a long history in the VA health care system of turning our challenges into opportunities to improve the care and services we provide to our nation’s Veterans. Many of our improvements have even benefited health care as a whole. Back in the 1980s, the VA health care system was under a great deal of scrutiny from Congress and the media over the quality of surgical care in our hospitals. The perception was that surgical mortality rates in our hospitals were much higher than the rates in private sector hospitals. Congress passed a law requiring VA to report surgical outcomes annually and compare them to the national averages. But there was a problem: those national averages didn’t exist.

Our surgeons turned this challenge into an opportunity to develop ways to measure and compare the quality of surgical care within our system. Their success led VA to establish an ongoing program to monitor and improve the quality of surgical care across our system. The more we focused on outcomes, the more outcomes improved. Eventually, our surgical quality improvement program spread to private sector hospitals, where it achieved similar success.

The story of how VA became a national leader in surgical quality illustrates the value of being a “learning organization.” Learning is all about asking questions. In a learning organization, everyone is empowered to join the journey to continuous improvement by asking questions like: What do the men and women we serve really want and need? How are we doing at meeting those needs? How do we know? What could we do differently that would better meet those needs? Who is doing it better and how can we use their ideas here?

You—the men and women who carry out our sacred mission every day—are our organization’s greatest strength, and each of you has a vital role to play in improving our system. I encourage all of you to take advantage of the opportunities you have, including participating in our employee surveys, to tell us what you think about the work environment. If you have concerns, you should feel safe about speaking up without fear of reprisal. We must view our current challenges as an opportunity to learn—only then can we emerge as a better, stronger health care system.

CAROLYN M. CLANCY, MD

Carolyn Clancy, M.D., was named Interim Under Secretary for Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, on July 2, 2014. As Interim Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Clancy oversees the health care needs of millions of Veterans enrolled in VHA, the United States’ largest integrated health care system, with more than 1700 sites, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and Readjustment Counseling Centers. Dr. Clancy, a general internist and health services researcher, is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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Why do you have to be so mean?

This weekend I received a Tweet from a fellow veteran.

“Why do people that work for the VA have to be so mean? This goes to the vets that work for the VA from a fellow vet.”

I am not sure if that makes me sad or angry. I do know that it is not supposed to be that way. No employee at VA should ever act in a way that warrants a categorization of “mean” by the very customers for whom we exist. This goes even more so for employees who are Veterans themselves.

Now, I have been told more than once that I can be unapproachable, mean, or uncaring. I attribute part of that to having spent 20 years in the US Army, part on being a Texan and part to hidden reasons that many people deal with on a daily basis. None of which is an excuse nor is it acceptable. I also know an equal amount of rude, mean, angry, cynical, and hypocritical (you get the point) people who are not Veterans.

See, I am learning happiness begins on the inside and works outward to share with others. Being the Nation’s second largest employer of Veterans, VA has many different personalities, behaviors and experiences in a huge melting pot of diversity and inclusion. As a Veteran myself, I am also a patient at VA. I will share with you my secrets to getting quality help at most visits.

  1. Smile
  2. Pick up a comment card and carry it with me the entire visit
  3. Thank each and every VA employee who is having a good day
  4. With care, ask each employee who is not having a good day, “Are you ok?” (Listen Only)
  5. If  dissatisfied, stay calm and report the event on the comment card or to a Patient Advocate
  6. For ANY positive event, fill out the comment card with praise of employee(s) by name

That said, I have worked for VA for about 6 years. I have met many employees across the country and I can honestly say that the majority are talented, smart and caring people. I have also met some of the “mean” people that I too avoid. Sometimes, you just have to stay in your lane and avoid the obstacles that arise when people are wrapped up in their own misery or troubles. And I remind myself daily to smile.

A smile goes a long way to brighten a work day, a hospital visit, or a routine appointment.

A smile goes a long way to brighten a work day, a hospital visit, or a routine appointment.

If you are a patient at VA, I am sorry for every rude or mean comment you have ever had at VA and I hope we as an organization can better demonstrate the principles of “iCARE”. We all need to review them daily as our new leader, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, has embraced them in his first address to VA Employees.

If you are not a current VA Employee and want to bring your caring, positive, and proactive attitude to VA, I invite you to review the open positions that you may qualify for at VAcareers.va.gov.

My Mama’s Secret: Because nice matters!

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Lauren’s Story, Part 9: VA is a Supporter of Breastfeeding

Written by: Lauren – Guest Blogger sharing her perspective as a VA employee and patient during her second pregnancy.

Baby Hunter and I are doing very well. I am entering my third trimester so I am getting very excited! My four year old is getting very excited as well, and has even asked me if the baby could sleep in his room.

I had to explain to him why he would not want a newborn sleeping in his room, and I also explained that the baby will be sleeping in a bassinet next to Mommy and Daddy for a few weeks.

This will help baby Hunter and I work on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is proven to be best for babies and mommies, but it does take a lot of work and requires a lot of support. I was honestly very surprised to learn that VA highly supports women Veterans breastfeeding their babies.

breastfeeding_VAI had a hard time breastfeeding my first son. My husband left on deployment when our baby was 2 weeks old and I had a really hard time finding the support I needed to continue after he left. I want this time to be different. This time I don’t have any deployment stress, I have more family in the area and I know more about the support organizations in the community.

I am very lucky to be a part of an organization, both as an employee and as a Veteran, that promotes and supports breastfeeding. It is unfortunate that not all women receive the same type of support.

August 1 kicks off World Breastfeeding Week. To learn more about how VA supports breastfeeding, please click here.

About Lauren

lauren_wLauren is a Navy Veteran and current Public Affairs Specialist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia. Throughout her second pregnancy, she will be sharing her thoughts and experiences as a patient at VA. We are all excited to follow her on this healthcare journey!

 

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