When I started my new role in December, I began a listening tour to meet with diverse groups of employees at each of our entities. My goal was to discover what you value most about UW Medicine and what you see as our challenges and opportunities.
These conversations have been candid and illuminating. While I plan to continue my listening tour, I want to share several themes that will provide a framework for my work as chief health system officer in the days and months ahead.
Your connection to UW Medicine starts with our mission and where you work. You have a mission that makes you proud and deep connections with your local communities. This is true whether you are providing outstanding patient care at our community hospitals and clinics, saving lives in flight, advancing medicine at our academic medical centers or supporting all of our clinical, teaching and research activities in Shared Services. At each stop on my listening tour, the important role of your local organization was clear. UW Medicine is a leading health system because of the work you do at Airlift Northwest, at Northwest Hospital and Valley Medical Center, at Harborview and UW Medical Center, at UW Neighborhood Clinics and at UW Physicians.
Along with your deep local connections, you are proud to be part of a larger system that is setting the standard for the region. We have the expertise to take care of the sickest patients, and we are national leaders in finding new treatments and approaches to improving health. As an example of this innovation, I heard your pride in how we are integrating mental health into primary care at our clinics.
Our Patients Are First culture is another pride point. I was pleased to see how often this came up in my conversations with front-line staff. You welcome our commitment to focus on the patient because it is consistent with our mission and helps you clarify what is most important in your daily work.
We have not fully leveraged the benefits of being a system. In response to my question about challenges and opportunities, you pointed out that we often have different ways of doing the same thing. This introduces unnecessary variation and is costly in time and resources. In Shared Services departments, I heard that we have not standardized common processes sufficiently, and we have not made it easy for patients to flow between our organizations.
Access to our system is another concern. Despite some improvements in recent years, we still have trouble providing timely appointments or access to inpatient beds for patients. Even more, I heard from both physicians and staff that you have trouble getting appointments within our system for your personal care.
These challenges are compounded by the complexity of UW Medicine. You told me, “We’re not very nimble. We don't make decisions and change quickly.”
‘Are we there yet?’ In support of our mission to improve the health of the public and in response to the changing healthcare landscape, the pace and scope of new initiatives are unprecedented. We are asking you to work on care transformation, healthcare equity, partnerships, consolidations, financial improvement and much more.
With all of these activities going on at the same time, you told me that it is difficult to answer the question: “Are we there yet?” Other than improving the patient experience, our top priorities and destination are not always clear. You also want to know how your specific work connects to these priorities. For example, while you are aware of the importance and urgency of our Financial Improvement and Transformation (FIT) program, you want to know how you can make contributions in your local work unit to the overall FIT goals.
We need to connect the dots. As I continue in my leadership role, I am inspired by your talents and dedication to UW Medicine. I hope to work with the team to create a “shared mental model” that will give us greater clarity about our destination, including our goals, measures of success and personal responsibilities. Once we do this, we will be better able to answer the question: “How far have we come?”
I will also be working with other UW Medicine leaders to address some of our challenges by building on the Patients Are First framework, sharing best practices among groups and leveraging the strengths of our system. One example will be an announcement soon about initial plans to improve access to UW Medicine for our own employees.
As I continue my listening tour, I look forward to hearing your ideas to transform the way we work together, create our best ever UW Medicine, and move forward to improve health in our region and beyond. With your partnership, we will tackle our current challenges and emerge stronger than ever.