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Hospital’s care tops among peers

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

The Emergency Department at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital is typically a very busy place.

“We see, on average, 85 patients a day,” says Dr. Joe Britton, SNMH Emergency Department Medical Director. “Some days, that number can be over 100. And many of our patients are critically ill.”

Despite this hectic, stressful environment, the SNMH Emergency Department has been recognized yet again as being the best among its peers for “patient experience” – a survey measuring courtesy and communication, as felt by patients.

SNMH has ranked number one in patient experience among all 36 Dignity Health hospitals for the past two months. The monthly rankings are determined by a survey asked of every patient.

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“The survey measures patient experience based on four measurements,” explains Dr. Britton. “Did the physician treat you with courtesy? Did the physician listen carefully to you? Did you receive a thorough explanation? And did the physician spend enough time with you?”

SNMH’s overall score – an average of the four measures – is in the mid 80s (out of 100).

Patient experience – previously known as patient satisfaction – has been a focus of SNMH and Dignity Health for more than ten years. The current survey, with its emphasis on courtesy and communication, has been in place for the past five.

“We have consistently had scores that were in the top three among all 36 Dignity Health hospitals,” says Dr. Britton. “But this is the first time our scores have ranked first – and we’ve achieved that two months in a row.”

Both Dr. Britton and SNMH Community Health and Mission Integration Manager Laura Seeman say their success boils down to one simple thing – communication between caregiver and patient.

“Navigating health care is very challenging for patients,” Seeman says. “It can feel like there are a lot of barriers. As a hospital, we are focused on removing those barriers and connecting our patients to the care they need.”

To that end, Seeman says part of the success of SNMH’s Emergency Department is due to their team of ED Navigators who assist patients most at risk for facing challenges related to access to care.

“Often times if a patient is frustrated in the Emergency Department, it’s because they didn’t understand the process or weren’t told what to expect,” says Seeman. “Navigators can work with patients to address those issues and they can also bridge the gap between what we can do at the hospital and the resources available in the community.”

Dr. Britton says SNMH’s smaller nature can, at times, also present challenges.

“We are a community hospital, so by nature we do not have every specialty available at a moment’s notice here in our building like hospitals in larger cities do,” Dr. Britton explains. “Sometimes we may need to consult with a specialist or transfer a patient and those things take time. That can be frustrating. Our physical size can also present challenges. We are limited by space constraints that can contribute to wait times and frustrate patients.”

However, Dr. Britton says that issue is being addressed due in part to the generosity of the community.

“Community donors made it possible for the hospital to make improvements to the Emergency Department that have truly made a difference in the satisfaction of our patients,” Dr. Britton says. “We now have dedicated space for patients experiencing psychiatric crisis, as well as other improvements that have improved how efficiently we can see patients.”

Another positive factor in the patient experience cited by Dr. Britton is the medical staff.

“As a hospital, we are committed to having only board-certified physicians who are trained in emergency medicine,” Dr. Britton explains. “That is actually very unusual for a small community hospital like ours. We feel it is important for the quality of care we aim to provide. Our patients appreciate that they are receiving care, right here in our community, from well-trained physicians who are specialists in emergency medicine.”

While Dr. Britton is proud of the recognition his team is receiving, he says that at the end of the day, it is a result of SNMH’s commitment to caring for the community.

“We do the things we do and treat patients the way we treat them not because of any survey,” Dr. Britton says. “We do these things because it is the right thing to do for our patients.”


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