March 16, 2021
To mere mortals, the complexity of opening a new hospital boggles the mind. It is, to be sure, a daunting and audacious endeavor, especially in a modern context.
So, it may come as a surprise to hear that the most essential components of the process to hospital administrators and lead physicians are not the intricacies of pulling wires, setting up the Byzantine HVAC system, or meeting seismic requirements. Yes, any of those things done poorly will derail a new hospital before the doors ever open, but they can all be entrusted to an experienced construction firm that specializes in hospitals and has the references needed to demonstrate expertise.
After the last door is hung, hospital leaders must create workflows, processes, and a culture that focus primarily on quality patient care, selfless collaboration, and general excellence.
What strategies are going to enable that kind of environment?
Conduct More Training and Preparation Than You Think You Should: Efficiency in any job, whether building sandwiches or mapping genomes, is largely the product of familiarity. It’s just easier to get the job done when your body knows the process without intense cognitive effort.
“The biggest challenge is to ensure everyone is oriented to the new environment and can quickly, safely and effectively navigate all of the new systems and features that come with a new hospital,” said Tom Hanenburg, senior vice president of San Leandro Medical Center when it opened. “So you need to provide a lot of staff training and education before you make the move so everyone operates in the new environment safely and effectively.”
To engage and properly prepare all staff members, conduct training with a focus on seven guiding principles:
Install All Systems Before Training Starts: It probably goes without saying that x-ray machines and CT scanners must be in place before people can be trained on them. What may be less clear is that all computer hardware and your healthcare IT systems—electronic health records, revenue cycle systems, supply chain applications, etc.—should be in place before day one of training. Modern hospitals now run on healthcare IT, making the familiarity of providers and staff as important as anything else you do.
“I knew that this would be one of the most important decisions that I made as we launched the hospital; many places were still on paper at that time,” says Dr. Michael Krupa, the CEO and founder of TaraVista Behavioral Health Center near Boston. “First of all, I was uneducated. I needed outside expertise to help guide me in all sorts of ways and I evolved into knowing what I needed is a platform that spoke to the unique needs of behavioral health.”
Of course, this means hospital leadership has to pick software platforms well in advance of training so that everything can be in place. It wouldn’t be excessive to start the IT search 24 months or more before opening day, given the often-long implementation timeframes. Also, as Dr. Krupa indicated, the wise approach probably includes leaning on the knowledge of outside experts.
Take Full Advantage of the Newness: People generally like new things. So, for a while anyway, a new hospital has a perception advantage. Maximize that with both patients and staff.
“We were fortunate in our ability to be selective in the hiring of our staff,” explained CEO Kent Loosle of Mountain Point Medical Center. “We had 4,000 applications for 250 positions. This gave us the opportunity to hire really great talent. We were able to begin the positive culture from the beginning. We have engaged staff, engaged physicians and in an engaged community. Those three elements bring a new culture that will bring long term success to the facility.”
Loosle makes a good point in that it is wise to really home in on staff, initially. Imbued with an inherent sense of commitment to healthcare, hospital staff will generally want to honor the beauty of a modern new facility by providing an equivalent level of care and customer service. Ride that for as long as possible, particularly as it may be an ally in minimizing staff turnover.
Know Your Surrounding Community Intimately: Are you in an urban or rural area? Are you providing inpatient behavioral health or acute care? What’s the average income level of the community? Is it conservative Christian or humanist and agnostic? Health is as personal as just about anything and community members will want a new hospital that reflects their values and demonstrates a primary commitment to patients as people, not sources of revenue.
This projected personality will also be a factor when establishing necessary relationships in the community. Other businesses may provide services you need, and they can certainly be a way to get the name of the new facility out there.
A corollary of knowing the community is planting a flag within it. Write periodic op-eds for the local newspaper. Buy outfield advertising at the little league ball field. Sponsor a bowling league. Also, while it may seem potentially problematic to create a social media presence, this is where knowing the community becomes most valuable. Entrust social media management to a skilled communicator who knows when and how to avoid hot-button issues and getting ratioed (alternatively, ratio’d; it’s a Twitter thing you can look up).
Communicate on an Elemental Level: Regardless of the make-up of the surrounding community, have confidence in a communications strategy that meets people where they live and appeals to their greatest concerns. Displayed ER wait times on a billboard won’t reach people that don’t need an ER immediately, but a well-done video on YouTube explaining how your facility handles cancer treatment can potentially touch numerous lives in the potential patient base.
“Emotions play a huge role in healthcare products’ lifecycle,” says Carlos Machicao, CEO and founder of Wild Pixel Media. “Our health affects our stress levels, our ability to interact socially with friends and family and even, in some cases, our priorities in life. This cannot be overlooked. It is paramount that we target these emotions and use them as a means to connect with our audience — and not in an oversimplifying or unrealistic fashion, but in a way that is believable and that actually creates impact.
The same strategy could be applied to communication with providers and staff. Some may be cynical, but most will want to take pride in the services they provide and the hospital where they work. Appealing to their desire to be outstanding and, on an emotional level, to improving lives will yield real benefits when conveyed consistently and with good faith.
Assemble the Clinical Team with Great Care: People come to the hospital for care, and in the era of online reviews, consistently disappointing care will send patients looking for alternatives. The goal before opening the doors is to build a clinical team with a singular vision, with a commitment to one another above self, with an obviously collaborative attitude. (Maybe show everyone Ted Lasso during training for inspiration.) Hospital administrators can help build this type of team and culture by pitching in when necessary and helpful.
The longer-term benefits to the new hospital are not just in satisfied patients, though that is the primary goal. A connected, effective team bonds in a way that limits staff turnover, and that bonding makes every staff member think of honoring their colleagues when they do their jobs.
Don’t Forget All the Other Stuff: Will these six suggestions ensure a successful new hospital opening or transition? Of course not. These approaches are prerequisites for success after the hospital doors are open and the kinks start to introduce themselves.
What else must be addressed before welcoming patients? Here are a few ideas:
All of the strategies listed here apply to new hospitals, and most apply to new-ownership or reopening scenarios as well. Obviously, taking a 40-year-old facility and making it a LEED hospital is difficult bordering on impossible, but upgrades and enhancements to the building are still desirable and recommended.
The closure of so many small and rural hospitals in recent years is a real concern for American healthcare. But if more nimble, efficient, and connected facilities can potentially take their place, perhaps the net loss over the long term can be minimized.
Medsphere Supports New and Acquired Hospitals
In recent months, Medsphere has established relationships with several new hospitals or facilities transitioning to new ownership. These new clients occupy both the acute and inpatient behavioral health / psychiatric care spaces. What motivated them to choose Medsphere? While having the ownership situation in common, these organizations are also modest in size and generally care for historically underserved suburban or rural populations. In Medsphere, they have a flexible partner offering multiple healthcare IT products and services they can use to affordably expand their own service lines and patient populations. If this thumbnail sketch sounds like your hospital, contact us to learn how we can power your growth and enable you to create a more efficient operation.