Texas Tech research team creates campaign for Rhode Island Hospital
Apr 06, 2012 (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Coy Callison, the associate dean for graduate studies in the Texas Tech University College of Mass Communications, reluctantly calls it "flavor of the month" training.
An employer buys into a directive and it immediately becomes the most important thing to focus on, he said. Employees accept the new directive, trying to be good team players and then a month or two later it's jerked away and the company is onto a new focus.
"I think we all get inundated with these directives that come and go in your personal life, or even in your professional life, where all of a sudden, you get very motivated to lose some weight because summertime is coming up," Callison explained. "That becomes all encompassing or involving until two weeks later, something else comes along and you want to get a better golf swing or do something else. It's one thing to do that to yourself; it's another thing when your employer asks you to."
It was the idea of sustainability of a new directive that got a group of researchers in the College of Mass Communications involved in Project CLEAR almost 2,000 miles away.
The goal of Project CLEAR, which stands for Communication Leading to Excellence and Ameliorating Risk, is to give structure and consistency to the method in which hospital staff members communicate with each other and their patients.
The team created a campaign to ensure sustainability of a newly implemented customer service training program for emergency department staff at Rhode Island Hospital.
The Rhode Island physician team, led by Dr. Lynn A. Sweeney, developed the modules that combined simulation sessions with customer satisfaction modules to create Project CLEAR.
It was Sweeney, a staff physician in the emergency department and an assistant professor at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, who came up with the idea of combining simulation training that most health care providers go through with a type of customer service training.
"It's a big challenge to teach communication skills in the medical environment because often the staff feels they have to compromise medical quality if we provide good communication with patients," she said. "We decided to approach our issues with customer service the same way we would any clinical problem. Then, it seemed like simulation was very natural."
One concern was that people would not be fully committed to it. That was driving force behind charging the Texas Tech researchers with developing the sustainment effort.
The Tech research team includes chairman of public relations Trent Seltzer, associate professor Shannon Bichard and assistant professor Liz Gardner. Callison is the lead researcher.
The group spoke with physicians and nurses to see what they thought about communication patterns within the emergency department, Callison said. The research team also shadowed the different groups.
Seltzer said nurses and physicians used different languages when talking about patients. Nurses focused on the emotional needs of the patients. They would say things like, "He had a rough day," or "She's having problems making payments," or "His family came to visit."
Physicians focused on the patients' conditions and treatment, Seltzer said.
"But they were all united by the same idea," Seltzer said. "Everyone we talked to went back to 'We want this to work well. We want this to be successful because we care about the patient.' The one thing that they were all on the same page was on patient care. They just go about it in different ways."
The team studied classic branding strategies; how people perceive different layouts, designs and verbiage; and it slowly developed a type of public relations campaign. The goal was to get people talking about the new training and to create a momentum that kept employees hooked so they wouldn't forget the messages. There are reminders throughout the department: messages on computer screens, in trauma rooms and on pens and markers.
Although Project CLEAR began last fall, and the team's work with Rhode Island Hospital began almost two years ago, Callison said, the project is ongoing. It will involve years of follow-up work.
The team already is developing new posters so the emergency department has an updated, fresh look. The training also is being tweaked so that it evolves, Callison added.
As a result of the project's initial success, it has received national media attention, including mentions in News-Medical.Net, Medical Xpress, Health Fitness & Beauty and WorldNews, according to a Tech news release.
The project's true success depends on the long term, Callison said, and it's still early. All signs point in a good direction for now, he said.
Adam Rojek, co-principal investigator on Project CLEAR and a clinical educator within the emergency department, said a midpoint survey revealed improvement.
"Every single question is geared toward the staff's perception on (communication)," Rojek said. "Every single question had improved; a significant amount had statistically showed significant progress. I think anecdotally, many nurses are coming up to me telling me how much communication has improved, how we're on a better path, how their relationships with physicians have improved since it all started."
Callison said eventually the goal is no one knows what Project CLEAR ever was. It becomes the way the hospital does business. If it gets to that point, Project CLEAR will be a long-term successful effort.
Rojek said Lifespan, which owns four hospitals, has provided the funding for Project Clear through its Risk Services department, and just approved additional funding to take the project to Newport Hospital.
Callison said he recently returned from presenting the project at a conference in San Diego, telling others how to implement it in their own hospitals.
Callison said there's one thing he already can be proud of -- showing people how communications scholars can bring application to their studies.
"What this project does that is very specific for health care is it takes a group of people funded by state of Texas to teach students, to do research in the community, that we can actually help people's lives better through health care or whatever it may be," he said. "I'm proud of the fact that people in Providence, Rhode Island, today are getting better health care, are healthier ... and are dealing with their health issues in a more positive manner because four people from Texas decided to get involved with them."
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