If you’ve been tuned into ThedaCare even a little bit, you know we’re focused on making health care better. Finding ways to improve has been in our DNA for more than 100 years. From cancer care to new imaging technology to open heart surgeries to neonatal intensive care and more, we’ve expanded services and tried new ideas.
In 2003, when we started the ThedaCare Improvement System (TIS) to intentionally engage our people in improvement, we leaned forward with gusto. Today, TIS is how we operate. Frontline teams engage one another, partners, patients and data as they identify problems and develop solutions. Leadership provides time, tools and support to allow these efforts to go forward. Everyone participates, everyone contributes. What doesn’t work for patients is eliminated, and what does is enhanced.
Imagine our surprise then, when our own self-analysis showed we sometimes get tripped up. Turns out our improvement process can’t always coordinate care among departments or facilities, doesn’t always allow for optimal implementation and sometimes overlooks frontline decision-making that empowers faster improvement. The big picture results needed some improving.
Our leadership team’s response was direct: It’s time to restructure. A business our size needs an operational hub, a central point of coordination and integration. We responded by creating a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) position. Laura Reed, our Chief Nursing Executive, has stepped into the COO role as well. She’s been on the combined job less than two months, and she’s already moving us forward.
With a focus on system-wide improvement, Laura is bringing a fresh set of eyes to our customer experience, and with frontline team members, is figuring out how we improve more rapidly to deliver peace of mind for all we serve. It’s mission critical work for us. In partnership with Greg Long, our Chief Medical Officer, she’s leading the charge to transform care.
Laura likes to say she’s freeing up the power of our 7,000 employees, to help them make better and faster decisions so they can “shine brighter.” Growing and developing to perform at a higher level is what people want personally, and a system where people shine is what everyone wants. We have always believed that the people who are closest to the work are the most effective in finding ways to achieve better. What Laura and Greg are now doing is empowering that frontline engagement to shine by supporting shared decision-making, and spreading new knowledge and possibilities throughout the system.
For example, one hospital team realized that patients and families in our Intensive Care Unit were raising concerns about visitation rules. The team of frontline clinicians investigated what others were doing related to visitation and how it impacts healing. Within a short period of time, they designed a process using our improvement tools and implemented them on the unit. The result was better communication with families and a desire from our other ICU to trial the same changes.
By following our longtime improvement processes, looking at best practices from other healthcare systems and working together, this team showed how care of a specific patient population, and their families, can be improved. Using the shared governance and decision-making model Laura and Greg have launched, the ICU team demonstrated how our new structure works. We’re excited to infuse this kind of work throughout our hospitals so other patients, families and staff can also experience the benefits.
The bottom line is we are now positioned to gain more improvements, more rapidly than we have in the past. We haven’t changed our DNA. We’re connecting the dots between our teams, our improvement tools and our organizational results. We’re gaining momentum that makes a difference for consumers.
I’d say better is looking better all the time.
By Dr. Dean Gruner, president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare. To send your thoughts to him, email email@example.com.