Branding at the Bedside with the Help of Partners

by Geoffrey W. Crabtree

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio is the region’s largest healthcare provider, with 8,000 employees in 26 facilities, including nine hospitals that house a total of over 2,000 beds.

It’s not easy to differentiate yourself in an industry that never stands still and grows more competitive every day. Yet, the forces that make differentiation in healthcare so difficult are also the ones that make it mandatory. Methodist article

At the Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio, we are distinguishing ourselves through an ever increasing level of front-facing patient care I refer to as “Branding at the Bedside.” The actions of our physicians and nurses at the bedside are what truly make a difference. We have a full complement of clinical providers who take care of our patients in a unique way. It’s the best expression of our mission, “Serving Humanity to Honor God.”

For example, nurse-to-patient ratios are carefully monitored and adjusted based on continued patient and physician feedback. We also emphasize patient information and education, with high quality materials that help patients understand their health challenges, service expectations and desired outcomes.

As a result of this important daily work, Methodist’s patient and physician satisfaction scores are among the highest in the marketplace. Yet, like every healthcare institution, we face an incredible number of challenges that threaten our ability to deliver outstanding care.

Losing Sleep Over What’s Ahead

Healthcare workers will tell you it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. Even if you try counting sheep, you’re likely to end up tallying the changes and uncertainties you will face the next day. These challenges are not unique to Methodist, but are affecting healthcare institutions across America. Three of the most prominent are:

  • Unknowable change—Healthcare reform is bringing changes unlike anything we have ever seen, and many of the rules haven’t been written. We have some knowledge of what’s ahead and are doing our best to prepare for it. But the ultimate impact of healthcare reform is still a question mark.
  • A shortage of physicians and nurses—The U.S. is facing a critical lack of caregivers—and there are no signs of improvement. This is an issue that must be resolved, yet there are no clear strategies on the horizon that can guarantee needed improvement.

Reimbursement challenges—About 60 percent of a hospital’s reimbursement comes from the government. As healthcare in the U.S. continues to evolve, improvement in government reimbursement rates will have to play an even more important part in the successful delivery of healthcare at the levels patients expect.

Can the healthcare industry meet these challenges? I believe we can. But not without a lot of sweat, sacrifice, innovation and even more change. In the meantime, we must continue providing the highest possible quality patient care—regardless of financial and operational challenges. One way we do this at Methodist is through solid vendor partnerships.

Partners Who Think Like We Do
Many healthcare provider challenges are related to cost. Of course, the bulk of any healthcare provider’s expenses are in the costs associated with the direct delivery of care. Therefore, it is vitally important to constantly look for ways to cut down ancillary expenses. The less spent in nonclinical areas, the more investments can be made in patient care. So for us, it is imperative we look for partners who can help lower operational expenses.

Our Xerox-run print center is one example. We print millions of clinical and business documents every year—and the content continually changes. By centralizing print operations and implementing print on demand, we are keeping our documents current and saving more than two million dollars a year in outsourced printing costs. These savings are directed back into enhancements in patient care that ultimately differentiates Methodist from our competitors.

But, saving dollars through unique partnering with vendors is only one factor in our continuing successes with Xerox. Our partners must also think like we do, living our mission, vision and values every day. That means they have to be:

  • Flexible and responsive—because healthcare is episodic and daily demands are different from one to another.
  • Entrepreneurial—to ensure we remain strategic and creative in ideas and solutions.
  • Experts in their field—enabling us to confidently offload nonclinical tasks and focus on patient care (perhaps the most important outcome of a successful partner relationship).

Patient-centric—because our ultimate “customer” is the patient and therefore our ultimate goal has to be a positive patient experience second to none.

Take, for instance, the “reinvention” of our patient materials by our print center partners. Methodist’s patient documents are now easier to understand, more attractive and quickly updated. This is critical in light of the readmission challenges now linked to reimbursement. The more we do to educate patients about what to do when they get home, the more likely we are to keep them from needing to return to the hospital.

“Methodist Excellence” at Every Level
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of our business relationships is our partners’ commitment to “Methodist Excellence,” which is the goal of every Methodist Healthcare employee. Some partners, like Xerox, even attend educational opportunities on the importance of Methodist Excellence and wear Methodist Healthcare ID badges that example that commitment. They live our brand and are a seamless part of our organization.

This commitment to excellence has shaped our organization since our first hospital opened in 1963 and continues to guide us today. With the help of partners who share our vision, we can confront the complexities, changes and unknowns that lie ahead—and remain successful in exceeding the expectations of our patients, their families, physicians and the communities we serve.


Geoffrey Crabtree is a Senior Vice President of Methodist Healthcare System.

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