October 7, 2019

St. Vincent Charity patient advocacy improves care through compassionate, hands-on approach

Faith-based health care offers a unique environment of patient care that addresses medical, spiritual and socioeconomic needs. As Cleveland’s only Catholic hospital, caregivers at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center serve a mission dedicated to the healing ministry of Jesus and serve with a deep respect for the dignity and value of all persons. This mission, and a devotion to caring for the whole person, led St. Vincent Charity to establish a patient advocacy department that is unlike that of any other health system in Northeast Ohio. 

Often referred to as ombudsmen or patient advocates, health systems employ these roles in an effort to offer assistance in improving a patient's experience. Patient advocates help with anything from explaining hospital procedures to helping with scheduling or issues related billing. 

The Plain Dealer recently took an in-depth look at how patient advocates can improve the overall health care experience and highlighting how nearly every St. Vincent Charity patient gets a visit from a patient representative who sits at their bedside and listens. Read the full article here. The article was also published on the Daily Briefing by the Advisory Board.

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center’s patient advocacy office employs two patient representatives that service the entire hospital. The extended patient advocacy team includes two Legal Aid Society attorneys and 10 pastoral care staff. As the article points out, patient advocacy at St. Vincent Charity is a hands-on, real-time service element of the care provided.

“Our job as patient representatives at St. Vincent is unique from other hospitals because we are at the bedside. We round in the hospital every day. We sit with patients, meet their family, get to know them and learn about their specific situation,” said Anne Messer, patient representative and service excellence lead at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.

Using a proactive approach to patient advocacy the team can help mitigate possible issues that would often lead to compliant calls after a person leaves.

“By meeting every patient on a daily basis we’re able to establish a rapport and foster trust with patients that allows us to build a relationship with people,” said Marijo Atkinson, patient representative, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. “Sitting next to someone, holding their hand, just spending time with them – it really goes a long way in making sure the patient has a positive experience. It is invaluable when trying to mitigate any negative feedback. We could never have the same impact sitting in an office answering phones.”

During their bedside rounding, Messer and Atkinson ask how patient about their hospital stay, how it could be improved and spend a lot of time speaking with patients about next steps after they leave the hospital. Some patients confide that they are homeless, or lack transportation or insurance. St. Vincent offers them help from the hospital’s on-site Legal Aid office or gives rides on its shuttle van. Patients also receive help signing up for Medicare or Medicaid.

“We don’t wear a clinical uniforms,” said Atkinson, “And that really helps convey that we are there for the patient. We truly are there to represent the patient and we are not here just for the hospital,” Messer told The Plain Dealer. “We are better able to learn about them and get overview of their entire situation and find out if there are any underlying issues in their life that we can help them resolve before they go home.”

The patient advocates at St. Vincent offer a lot of support to patients in ensuring they understand what is being told to them by a physician. Health literacy – patient retention and comprehension of medical information being given to them – is a huge issue across the health care industry. The Health Literacy Institute at St. Vincent Charity is a nationally recognized leader in developing a program model to institutionalize health literacy across the continuum of patient care. St. Vincent Charity recognizes that health literacy isn’t just about the skills of an individual patient, but that health systems and professionals impact health literacy by making health information and services understandable and actionable.

If Atkinson or Messer encounter a patient having trouble understanding their care instructions, they will follow-up with the physician and if needed, bring the patient and clinical team together to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Patients don’t need the added stress of not knowing how to take their meds or who to schedule a follow-up appointment with after discharge, so we make them as comfortable and prepared as possible,” Messer said. “Service recovery isn’t always about a bad thing. It can be about recognizing our patients are sad or scared and determining how we can make them comfortable.”

Atkinson explains that it’s the faith-based mission of St. Vincent Charity that the patient experience different.

“We serve with a mission to respect the dignity and value of all people. We want our patients to know they are safe, we care about them and we will do everything in our power to make sure they receive the best care possible while they are with us.”

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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