How this Small New England Hospital Centers the Customer Experience

In healthcare as in other industries, customer experience (or patient experience) is paramount to an organization’s competitive advantage. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on SiriusXM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Dr. Michael Jaff discusses his role as a facilitator for change and how the hospital encourages patient and employee input on the operational procedures that can be improved or refined.

As many patients struggle to find affordable healthcare in the U.S., several hospitals are actively striving to improve their accessibility and quality of service. Among those is Newton-Wellesley Hospital, a small, private, community hospital in Newton, Massachusetts. Appointed as its president in 2016, Dr. Jaff says he has emphasized a focus on patient experience at every level of the institution. By implementing novel methods to solicit feedback from both patients and employees, the hospital can continuously adapt to the needs of the community it serves. Dr. Jaff elaborates on how they strive to create an inclusive, empathetic environment in which each visit is a comfortable and welcoming one.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Dr. Michael Jaff (President, Newton-Wellesley Hospital)

Saikat Chaudhuri: You’re clearly focused on the patient experience, doing a lot of things that we at business schools also like to look at. In particular, what resonated with me is the idea that you can learn from other industries. I believe every sector should do that. There are many things that we think are novel in our sector that other industries have gone through or are going through. One of the questions I wanted to ask you is, how do you orchestrate this? Have you formed separate teams to focus on innovation? Do they comprise current staff, such as doctors and nurses and so forth, who are willing to step forward and take these responsibilities on additionally? Is there anything in terms of incentives that they get, beyond the satisfaction (which is important enough)?

Dr. Michael Jaff: Great question. When the environment is tough and there’s not a huge margin to play with, it’s hard to justify adding a whole lot of people for something that’s in the ether a bit. Luckily for me, when I came here, the organization had a core team of process improvement folks already focused on how to think through the lean process. (That’s the term that they used.) I brought them through some human design thinking training. I gave them a chance to participate in some coursework and thought as we went along, “Gee, maybe we could expand the scope of this group to become the innovation experience team.” We ended up getting a lot of traction.

They view this as a huge career advancer for them. The institution, which had already started seeing some positive outcomes from this empowerment of innovation thought, saw that there was now going to be a team focused on bringing this type of thought across the organization — not just living in women’s health or in ambulatory surgery. Now, we’ve got this core group that we’ve colloquially termed internally the “Department of Tomorrow” which is focused on the things you and I are talking about.

“The patient experience is what is going to distinguish us in the marketplace and give us an advantage.” – Dr. Michael Jaff

Chaudhuri: One of the things that you touched upon is that many organizations tend to be very siloed. Having people able to work across those boundaries is important, and you seem to have given them a mechanism for doing so. The other piece that you touched upon that really resonates is the mindset issue. When we think about any organization, whether corporate or otherwise, often it’s the mindset and background which are the hardest to change, and then subsequently, the actual processes. What challenges you have faced in doing this? You make it sound very easy, and I can see that you’re very personable and affable and you can be very persuasive, but it can’t have been easy for you to initiate this.

Dr. Jaff: It’s not even easy today. I would say that this is one day after the next. It’s talking about it and getting other people to start talking about it who get infected with the concept of thinking differently about healthcare, feeling as if they could have an influence. I’m talking not about the people who report directly to me. I’m talking about the important folks who serve food, clean rooms, and transport the patients, without whom I’d struggle to run this place. These people are also feeling as if they have opportunities to make a difference. Those things demonstrate positive examples of outcomes that I then talk about and that others can talk about, but I can tell you, I’ve got a long way to go. This is a different way of thinking, particularly in a community hospital setting surrounded by some of the largest, most powerful academic institutions in the country. It might sound easy, but it is all day, every day.

Chaudhuri: Have you been able to leverage something from one of those large institutions, bringing part of Harvard Medical School into this community hospital?

Dr. Jaff: We are part of Partners HealthCare, which includes Mass General Hospital and the Brigham. We already have this tremendous opportunity to scale innovations that have been developed at these large academic medical centers. At the same time, there are things that we can do here, purely from a scale and scope opportunity, that they can’t do. You mentioned earlier that a lot of what we’re doing is around patient experience. I should tell the audience that nothing starts and stops before we make sure that we’re doing the best we can. From a quality standpoint, from an outcome standpoint, that’s the first bar that has to be crossed. Once we work on that, which we do every day, then the patient experience is what is going to distinguish us in the marketplace and give us an advantage. That’s what we focus on.

“When you walk into a store and the person working there is unhappy in their job, you don’t feel quite as warm and fuzzy. You don’t get the right service.” – Dr. Michael Jaff

Chaudhuri: Is the cost side important to you? How does it factor in?

Dr. Jaff: For the easy answer, all of us know in any experience we have in our lives that when you walk into a store and the person working there is unhappy in their job, you don’t feel quite as warm and fuzzy. You don’t get the right service. You don’t feel quite welcomed. The coffee is not quite as good. We all know that. It’s the same thing here. We work hard to let employees know that they’re important to us, that they’re important to each other. That’s a daily message that we play through. We hope that that will allow us to increase our volume, operationalize our experiences, and help meet our margins so that we can do the things we need to do. Cost and outcomes all tie in. In this current world that we’re in, it’s the reality of how it is.

Chaudhuri: I asked this conscious of the fact that the larger mission and the care part is of course paramount like you also described. Then there’s this other part which is, “Okay, how is this going to be sustainable economically?” Frankly, we face it too in the education space. Education is expensive, but having the best pedagogical approaches and the world’s best experts being able to give experiences is paramount. Sometimes, that’s not perfectly efficient because we’re not packing our classrooms to 100% capacity and only offering a limited number of classes. We’d like to give the offerings that the students want, and it’s a tricky thing to balance.

Dr. Jaff: You’re absolutely right. Often, what I’ve found is just being transparent about the discussion. People say, “Well, healthcare is a business, and that makes it cold and calculated.” Healthcare and business are not mutually exclusive. As I told you, I’m still seeing patients. It’s still my core value in this whole field, but you have to keep the lights on. You have to be able to fund the mission that you’re talking about.

About Our Guest

Globally recognized as an expert on vascular medicine, Dr. Michael R. Jaff became president of Newton-Wellesley Hospital (NWH) on October 4, 2016. He is invigorating the hospital with a bold vision to build an innovative health care delivery system that exceeds all patient expectations. Prior to coming to NWH, Dr. Jaff served as the inaugural Paul and Phyllis Fireman Endowed Chair of Vascular Medicine and Medical Director of the Fireman Vascular Center at Massachusetts General Hospital since 2004.

Under Dr. Jaff’s leadership, NWH is implementing innovative programs that focus on exceeding patient expectations and ensuring unparalleled quality of care. He has established an innovation task force led by the hospital’s first chief medical and innovation officer. Additionally, the NWH focus on the patient, employee and provider experience is unparalleled—a multidisciplinary team is led by the hospital’s chief quality and experience officer.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.