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Engaging Patients, Families & Staff with a Promise

Thursday, July 13, 2017
By Geri Lynn Baumblatt & Julie Becker

Julie Becker
Hannah Arendt once said, “Promises are the uniquely human way of ordering the future, making it predictable and reliable to the extent that this is humanly possible.”
So when UW health wanted to understand and improve the patient experience across their system they started by analyzing quantitative and qualitative patient experience data, which revealed 4 key components:
  • Listening
  • Showing compassion
  • Complete/consistent/understandable communication
  • Showing respect
The next steps included working with their patient experience subgroups and patients to develop a promise that would address the 4 key components and serve as a guide for providing a consistent and exceptional experience.
Why a Promise?
The decision to develop a promise arose as the patient and family experience team worked with subgroups to begin improvement work prioritization. The groups felt that UW Health needed to first build a strong foundation around core competencies that would support providing an exceptional experience with every patient. Though the mission, vision and values were already in place and well known across the system, a gap existed in that the mission, vision, and values did not necessarily reflect what patients consistently told us they value the most through collected data.
In essence, they spoke and we should listen.
Participatory Design
To demonstrate UW’s commitment to honoring their feedback, the promise was born. They solicited input from patients who were admitted in the hospital to help shape the basic structure and content. In personal interviews, they were shown 3 versions of the promise and asked how each one made them feel and what such a promise might mean to them.
The patient and family advisory council (PFAC) members weighed in on each component of the promise. The members were asked to describe what those components might look like to a patient or family member.  Patients specifically expressed that it was important to include “family” in the promise title as a means of  expression about the commitment to partner with not only patients, but their families to provide individual and inclusive care. The final simplified promise evolved to:
We Promise to: Listen with Compassion, Communicate Effectively, and Respect You
From here, the UW PFAC committee supported the development of an expanded version to identify behaviors most valued by patients and families. For example, specific behaviors were added to show how to make communication concrete and actionable:
  • Provide greeting and introduction
  • Confirm understanding
  • Identify and discuss patient and family preferences

The goal is to utilize versions of different lengths so the promise can meet a variety of needs. Once it’s rolled out across the organization, it will be included in all orientations, in printed materials for patients, posted in public spaces like elevators and on LCD screens,  on social media forums and on the public facing website.
Pre-roll out feedback from the staff and patient partners has been positive:
  • The word “promise” is powerful as it means something quite different when we say we make a promise to do something.
  • The promise will help leaders standardize expectations and will be helpful in evaluating performance.
  • The behaviors provide a clear understanding about how all staff can support the promise statements.
  • Patients who participated in the process said it makes them feel more confident that we are willing to “make a promise” to them.
Engaging Patients with a Promise
The promise will be both staff and patient facing. This sets clear patient expectations about how each member of the UW Team will interact with them on a daily basis. It also demonstrates they want to be transparent about that commitment.
A promise is defined as, “a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen”. Developing the patient and family experience promise with patients engaged them in a level of activity that will have lasting positive effects for all patients coming after them. They felt heard and listened to and were excited to be part of building a foundational document for the organization. The team at UW Health gleaned key insights and ended up with a promise that will better resonate with and engage patients.   
Julie Becker, DBA, MBA, BSN is the Director for Patient and Family Experience at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin.  She previously served as the Chief Patient Experience Officer for Lovelace Women’s Hospital and as VP for Patient and Family Experience for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. She holds a nursing degree, a Masters of Business Administration with an Organizational Development focus and a Doctorate of Business Administration specializing in Leadership.

Tags: patient engagement, communication, employee engagement, engagement, listening
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