Enabling patient-centered care and fostering care team well-being are core values of Vocera and our Experience Innovation Network. Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s patient-family partnership is emblematic of these values.
A Mission of Equity and Service
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s (ZSFG) vision is: To be the best hospital by exceeding patient expectations and advancing community wellness in a patient-centered, healing environment.
Susan Ehrlich, MD, MPH, CEO at ZSFG, takes that vision seriously. Dr. Ehrlich went to medical school at UCSF with many of her rotations at SFGH. As CEO, she still provides direct patient care, a practice that grounds her in the reality of patient and staff needs. “When I think about my legacy,” Dr. Ehrlich told the audience at our October 2018 CXO Roundtable, “it’s that every one of our staff experiences joy in their work, that all of us feel great about the compassionate care that we give, and that every one of our leaders and staff are as thoroughly engaged in learning and improving as they can possibly be.”
Partnering with Patients for Learning
To achieve the aim of engagement with learning and improvement, the leadership team at ZSFG partners closely with patients and families – as sources of learning and as partners in improvement. The organization has instituted patient-family advisory committees at hospitals, primary care clinics, behavioral health clinics, and community centers.
Here are some ways ZSFG involves its patient-family advisors:
- For many years, ZSFG has involved patient-family advisors in kaizen events, targeted improvement events that are part of the Lean management system. Lean, Dr. Ehrlich stresses, is not just about minimizing waste in processes and procedures. “First and foremost, Lean is putting a first focus on the patient and on your staff, and growing a group of connected, authentic, compassionate problem solvers.”
- ZSFG involved patient advisors in designing all aspects of its food pharmacy, a “pharmacy” in the ZSFG cafeteria to which patients with food insecurity can be referred for doctor-managed food support. Creating the food pharmacy aligns with ZSFG’s mission to serve its community with a focus on underserved populations.
- Patient advisors are helping their fellow patients understand the importance of team-based care – how doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and other care team members work together to deliver exceptional care. ZSFG calls this the One Health Team concept. “Patients come in and just want to see their doctors,” explained Dr. Ehrlich. “But our patient advisors want to help educate them about why the interdisciplinary team is so important.”
Patient Partnership at the Highest Levels
One of the most unique aspects of ZSFG’s patient partnership programs is the partnership between its CEO and patient advisors. In our research report looking at patient partnership, we found that patient advisors often sit in siloed committees that have little connection to making strategic decisions or to senior leaders.
But Dr. Ehrlich’s connection to patients runs deep. She still practices direct care and works closely with patient advisors. In speaking to the leaders at the CXO Roundtable, Dr. Ehrlich invited her patient “partner and advisor” Patrick McKenna to address the group.
Mr. McKenna decided to join the advisory team after 15 years of serious medical attention at ZSFG. He serves on the advisory committees for both the hospital and his local clinic. He is involved in the equity committee, new-employee training, update workshops, and several kaizen events. “I view my involvement in the advisory committee as payback and thank you to the thousands of hospital staff who have helped me,” he said.
Patient Wisdom: Improve, Lead, Communicate, Innovate
Mr. McKenna was unable to attend the event due to a family medical emergency, but Dr. Ehrlich shared his prepared closing remarks to the group. Following is an excerpt of those remarks:
“We the patients are everyday human beings who look up to you. We may not even know we look up to you personally, but we always look to you as a source in a hope that you can help us. Help us physically, mentally, and emotionally heal, and understand our difficult passages. Stand proud of what you are doing. You are helping mankind. Learn all you can share and then speak out.
Leadership starts at the top of an organization. If you do not lead by example, speech, and actions, you cannot expect your staff to do any better.
Where do you really need to focus your efforts? I leave you with these four pillars:
- Improve. If you preach transparency, make sure you define what you mean and then follow through with it.
- Lead. Teach leadership at every level. See that it is active throughout your staffs. Offer classes. Leadership is an ongoing skill.
- Communicate. Share your concerns. Seek help from your staff for great ideas. Talk to your Patient Advisory Council. Seek their ideas.
- Innovate. Technology holds opportunities we can only imagine. Patients are eager to learn of anything that will ease their pain.
"You are the leaders. You set the pace. Step up and create excellence.”
Mutually Beneficial Partnership
Dr. Ehrlich shared myriad ways in which patient advisors help the system learn and transform in ways that will truly serve their patients and communities. But Mr. McKenna stressed that the value does not flow in just one direction. “Patient Advisory Council activities,” he said, “help keep patients more alive than anyone could have ever imagined.”
The Experience Innovation Network is grateful to partners such as Dr. Ehrlich and Mr. McKenna who work tirelessly to create the Connected Healing Ecosystem.