Medical Professional Publications

When Every Complaint is a Gift: Patient Relations at Nationwide Children’s

(From the Spring 2013 issue of Everything Matters: In Patient Care)

Jeanette Thomas, Patient Relations

“My daughter’s teddy bear was sent out by mistake in the dirty linens and no one can find it.” “The clinical staff is not communicating between services and my son’s care is affected.” “Our wait was too long in the Emergency Room and we are not paying the bill.” “I need to talk to someone now regarding my child’s care at your hospital.” These are a few examples of the many scenarios handled by the Patient Relations department.

We want every patient’s hospital stay to be as comfortable and convenient as possible. Our goal is to provide patients, families and visitors with compassionate, respectful, timely and professional service. Unfortunately, there are times when we do not meet the expectations of our parents, patients and visitors. These situations occasionally need to be addressed by a neutral person and the Patient Relations department can be used to assist in this process. As much as we try to avoid situations in which patients and families are dissatisfied, complaints are inevitable and should be taken seriously.

Patient Relations believes that each complaint should be treated as a gift. A complaint is a gift when we are able to use it to improve the services we deliver. All patients and families have a right to express complaints regarding the care they have received. Nationwide Children’s encourages feedback from patients, families and visitors to help identify areas of concern, design new programs, modify existing programs, streamline processes and improve the quality of patient care.

Patient Relations serves as a neutral liaison between patients, families and hospital staff. When investigating a concern, the models of compassion and respect are used. The role of the liaison is to help with any problems that are not resolved by other staff and to assist families with any special needs. Patient Relations can help if there is a problem with the medical service, concerns about the quality of care, problems with a Nationwide Children’s employee or questions regarding the services and resources we offer. The liaison can also assist when someone is needed to listen, provide support or assist the family in any way.

Patient Relations serves as an advocate for patients to ensure that the best possible health care is being provided. We also answer questions regarding patients’ rights and responsibilities. We interpret the hospital’s philosophy, policies, procedures and services to patients, their families and visitors. We help expedite services on behalf of patients and provide a place where a patient, family member or visitor can offer a compliment or discuss a concern or grievance.

Our goal is to provide services in a climate in which the patient’s interest and beliefs are protected and respected. We are aware of and sensitive to the cultural diversity of our patients and families. While facilitating communication between patients, families and care providers, we are also able to provide support to the staff to enhance the hospital experience for patients and their families. This is achieved by maintaining the personal and professional integrity of all of the parties involved.

Once a complaint is received by Patient Relations, it is entered into the CS Stars database. The CS Stars database is a complaint database maintained by the Quality Improvement Services (QIS) department. The incident is then forwarded to the appropriate area for follow-up and resolution. The responsible area is required to report back to Patient Relations regarding the resolution of the complaint and the results are documented in CS Stars. We then communicate the resolution back to the person who originally filed the complaint. This QIS database is specifically designed to track and evaluate the hospital’s progress in receiving and resolving complaints. The organization also has the ability to monitor patterns or recurring complaints which are then channeled to the Nationwide Children’s Grievance Committee which works toward developing a long-term solution. Our goal is to reduce the number of complaints we receive by taking a proactive approach and by handling issues before they arise instead of reacting to ones we have already received.

We often encourage departments to try and handle issues themselves before contacting Patient Relations. This process is encouraged in an attempt to provide service recovery at the point of service. The appropriate first step should be to apologize to the family while establishing the intent to help reach a resolution. This should all be completed while obtaining pertinent facts and then a solution can be developed and implemented. If at any time during the process, it is determined that the problem is not able to be resolved, it is recommended to contact Patient Relations so that they can assist in the resolution, develop solutions or manage problems you can’t solve and then implement solutions.

Generally speaking, we have found that parents just want to be heard. A common complaint from the family is that medical staff does not listen to the parent. Parents always feel they know their child best and they want to pass on what they know about their child to the caregivers. Parents appreciate our family-centered care practices but sometimes feel that they are left out of the process. Family members become upset when they try to participate in the care of their child by explaining their child’s needs and then the medical staff does not take the time to listen.

We believe that each complaint is important; there are multiple ways complaints can be received in Patient Relations including by a phone call, a written letter, a voicemail, an email, or a social media channel. Patient Relations strives to make time to add a personal touch by meeting with families to discuss an issue face-to-face. We strive to be an advocate for families, while at the same time being sympathetic to the situation of the clinic, unit or department. We realize that there are always two sides to every story.

Patient Relations handles the complaints about lost teddy bears and scheduling errors and in these types of situations provides service recovery. If necessary, we replace lost toys or provide meal tickets and gas cards to assist in this service recovery. We have learned that sometimes the most important part of our job is to show that we care. In the near future, we hope to have service recovery provided not only by Patient Relations, but also at the point of service by the involved clinic, unit or department.

Patient Relations is all about finding the missing piece to a puzzle and taking the next step to solve that puzzle. It is a rewarding role as we assist patients and families in finding solutions to the troubling issues health care is faced with today. It is knowing that we have the ability to be the voice for patients who cannot speak for themselves. This is a tremendous gift and having the ability to laugh at ourselves and with others helps keep us grounded. At the end of each day, our reward comes from the belief that we have made the hospital experience better for those families we have had the privilege of meeting.

Nationwide Children's Hospital
700 Children's Drive Columbus, Ohio 43205 614.722.2000