Customer service and community support go hand in hand at this
large Texas hospital. Learning is a principal ingredient of
University Health System is a large institution that includes a
single inpatient hospital and 17 ambulatory care facilities
scattered throughout Bexar County, Texas. A chronic challenge for
such a sprawling organization is the equitable delivery of learning
and skills development, especially for personnel located at the
As with many healthcare providers, University Healths 1,500 remote
employees have always felt like stepchildren within the hospital,
concedes Theresa Scepanski, senior vice president of strategic and
organizational development. So two years ago, she created a program
to address the training and development disparities, both real and
The sole learning department staffer assigned to the centers was
soon joined by two additional full-time colleagues, and all three
were asked to pursue a broader mandate to serve the disparate
training and development needs. The initiative was even given a
catchy nameTake it to the MAX! (for maximizing ambulatory
excellence). Following an introductory sendoff, each trainer began
meeting with her assigned clinics to develop curriculum and
The MAX team was asked to bring standardization to scripting,
protocols, and policies at the centers, among other efficiency
improvements. Standardized for the first time were the measurement
and reporting of patient satisfaction scores across all ambulatory
care sites, using the NCR Picker surveys already employed at the
hospital. Customer servicealways a priority at the venerable
institutionwas prioritized at the sites with the adoption of an
expanded curriculum on customer service techniques.
Over a 12- to 18-month period, the MAX initiative produced a
dramatic shift in culture and mindset within the clinics and
communications among them, reports Scepanski. Both patient
satisfaction levels and employee morale have soared.
One key ingredient of the patient satisfaction improvement
initiative was adoption of the popular AIDET framework for customer
communication. For every patient encounter, employees were
instructed to follow a five-step procedure: Acknowledge the
patient, Introduce themselves, estimate the Duration, Explain, and
Thank the patient.
The MAX team individualized AIDET scripts for clinic situations,
designed job aides using the method, produced instruction videos
that featured hospital staffers, conducted mystery shopping
surveillance to evaluate the trainings effectiveness, made course
corrections, and even celebrated successes with their clinics
The AIDET program was so successful that it has since been
integrated into the inpatient setting within the hospital, says
University Health Systems ambulatory care initiative is merely one
innovation from a frequent BEST Award winner that also is skilled
at seizing learning opportunities from unlikely situations. The
institution is equally proud of its training-related
accomplishments in the area of corporate social responsibility, a
subject near to the heart of President and CEO George Hernndez,
Jr. You could even say it makes a science out of supporting the
community while imparting valuable learning to personnel.
For example, the hospital generates increased participation in an
annual Food Bank drive by creating a competition among three of its
leadership development organizationsthe Performance Leadership
Academy, the Management Development Academy, and the Administrative
Such activities, which are sponsored by the training department, do
more than benefit the community. They provide a meaningful format
for team building across organizational silos, for leadership
development, and for other learning. New skills, competencies, and
attitudes get directly transferred back to the job, says Jacque
Burandt, a learning department executive involved in HR
communications and volunteerism.
Our own patients, many of whom are uninsured, are recipients of the
social service agencies we work with such as the Food Bank, says
Burandt. She says working with the Food Bank provides employees
with valuable insights into the lives of many patients they see.
Its often an ah-ha moment for people who dont have to worry about
where they get their food, she states.
In addition, community support events create impromptu teams of
hospital employees who dont typically mingle, such as physicians
and clerical workers. New kinds of leaders often emerge from these
experiences, says Burandt. In short, the events make sense from a
return-on-investment standpoint while also benefiting the
community, she insists.
Hernndez says the county-owned hospitals deep commitment to its
community aligns with corporate goals because employees are seen as
ambassadors of hope and service for organizations across the United
States. Meanwhile, their contributions to the community are
invaluable. As a United Way Pacesetter organization, the enterprise
raised $308,000 last year in pledges and special eventsmore money
than any other public hospital in Texas. Blood donations not only
saved thousands of lives of patients seen in the hospitals trauma
center, but also saved $500,000 in blood product expense, says
Such enhancement of human capital and delivery of learning at all
levels have always been top priorities at University Health System.
One proven way to accomplish both is by building bench strength
from the bottom upthe focus of several longstanding programs there.
A dedicated position, education access coordinator, identifies
individual and group skills gaps and remedies them. Activities
include education expos, which brings continuing education
providers on site so employees can enjoy a one-stop shop. The
health systems website connects staff to tools and resources such
as colleges, universities, financial aid, and scholarships.
Another initiative is School at Work (SAW), a popular training
program that emphasizes core competencies so entry-level employees
can advance within the organization. Applicants selected for the
program meet weekly for three hours over eight months. Educational
topics range broadly from refreshing math, reading, and
communications skills to preparing for certification and degree
Students meet on their own time after work to complete the
curriculum via DVD and online modules. Sessions are led by a SAW
coach from the learning department. The coach introduces resources
from the community as needed, including college guidance counselors
and financial aid specialists to help propel students into new
careers. In addition, students can test out of remedial courses,
which saves themselves and the organization both time and money.
The organizations third successful SAW class in 2010 increased
graduates by 40 percent from 2009. An enterprise-wide recruiting
initiative produced 77 applicants who were screened for
eligibility, of which 17 were selected and 15 completed the class.
Six graduates received higher level jobs within the organization.
Another initiative launched last year by the learning department
was creation of a new internal academy. Called the Administrative
Professionals Academy, the project was designed in conjunction with
the American Management Association. Its goal is to provide
high-potential administrative professionals with the enhanced
knowledge and skills to perform and grow their careers. Activities
include a highly interactive curriculum to enable maximum cohesion
and group problem solving.
Still in its test phase, the project has to date produced a
three-part series of educational sessions, a new networking
mindset, and individual achievements in its inaugural class of
instruction on administrative topics.