January 27, 2021

The Patient Experience at Mission Hospital McDowell: How Listening to Patients Informs the Care We Provide and Guides Us toward Continued Excellence

Carol Wolfenbarger

Carol Wolfenbarger

By Carol Wolfenbarger, MSN, RN, FACHE

As I say often, our Mission Hospital McDowell (MHM) patients are what our work lives revolve around, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone I know who dedicates themselves to working in healthcare does so out of a deep sense of commitment to patients and their families. A term you may hear frequently if you’re a patient or visitor at the hospital, or even just reading about healthcare, is “patient experience.” We know what the words mean of course, but what does it translate into within our hospital, and across the healthcare industry?

We’re fortunate to have Greg Trosper as our new Chief Nursing Officer, and a significant part of his work involves researching, tracking and analyzing how our patients experience their care at MHM, looking deeply at our strengths and areas for improvement, and supporting staff and leadership in their efforts to give patients an extraordinary experience, on all counts. Greg’s job is much like a moving target though, because every patient’s experience is unique, and he juggles patient-provided data, industry-defined standards of care, and working with hospital leadership and caregivers to examine how they perform their work without ever taking their eyes off the patient’s perspective.

“When we talk about patient experience,” says Trosper, “we’re referring to pretty much everything a patient encounters during their stay at the hospital from the moment they enter, whether that’s the ease of the admissions process, the cleanliness of their room, the length of time it took for a nurse to respond to a call from them, and how we managed their pain.” Trosper explains that providing an excellent experience for the patient also involves meeting or exceeding industry-wide standards. “Patient experience also means that our nurses follow standards of practice that are evidence-based as they provide care, that they have ample opportunities for professional development and that we’re continuously refining our practices with the goal of increasing safety and efficiency.”

Trosper declares that despite the diverse realms that patient experience inhabits, it all comes down to one thing: empathy. “For me, the patient experience is about the caregiver providing compassionate care, and doing all they can to connect with the patient,” he says. “Healthcare workers are Jacks-of-all-trades. While meeting the standards set within their profession, they must also find out specifically how they can help each patient get the best experience while under their care. This might mean closely managing a patient’s pain, anticipating a need before even the patient is aware of it, simply counseling them through feeling afraid by explaining what is going to happen next, or just holding their hand.”

The importance of clear, calming communication at the hospital goes a long way toward making a patient’s time at MHM positive and healing. “Not only do we examine how clearly and sensitively we convey information about a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, communication also includes things like whether the Environmental Services team member greets you warmly as they enter, and even wayfinding on the hospital campus and inside the building. If people have an easy time finding where they need to go, they’ll be less stressed,” says Trosper.

When asked how the hospital gathers its patient experience data, Trosper explains that they measure the patient experience primarily by listening to the patient’s own words. “We provide every patient with a detailed survey about their experience upon discharge, and they can complete it via text, email or postal mail, and it’s highly detailed,” he says. “We also do in-person patient check-ins through daily nursing leadership rounding where we ask patients to assess the cleanliness of their rooms, quality of the food and responsiveness of their nurses.” If a patient reports that their meal arrived cold, for example, Trosper can communicate directly with the head of Nutrition Services to address that issue. “We have a centralized feedback tracking system that we can easily access that gives us a snapshot of how we’re doing,” Trosper shares, “and this part of the work is exciting because feedback reflects the ever-changing, dynamic nature of a hospital.”

COVID-19 has impacted how patients experience care profoundly as well. The need for caregivers to wear cumbersome full personal protective equipment (PPE) is an additional barrier between patient and caregiver, and poses challenges when communicating with the patient. Trosper says that it can be alienating to patients not to be able to see their caregiver’s face and have to strain to hear them. “We are right now at work developing ways to ease these issues and make caregiving more seamless for both our patients and caregivers,” he says.

Trosper says that he was called to work in healthcare due to his deep desire to serve and feel connected to his community. “I grew up in a rural area of Idaho, and most recently worked at larger healthcare facilities, so I’m happy to be back in a small rural community again here in Marion. My family and I just moved here four months ago from Utah, we’ve received a warm welcome, and we’re thrilled to be here.”

We’re glad to have Greg as the Chief Nursing Officer and have already felt his passion for patient care in our community. MHM team members continue to be dedicated to providing an excellent experience when you need our care.

Mission Hospital McDowell

Carol Wolfenbarger, MSN, RN, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer of Mission Hospital McDowell.

Mission Hospital McDowell, a member of Mission Health, an operating division of HCA Healthcare, is a community hospital serving McDowell County. Located in Marion, North Carolina, Mission Hospital McDowell operates 30 beds including 5 labor and delivery suites. Medical specialties offered include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, urology, obstetrics and gynecology, and walk-in, non-emergency care at Mission My Care Now McDowell. Five of Mission Hospital McDowell’s primary care practices have been recognized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as Rural Health Clinics.