It wasn’t too long ago that I took my mother to one of the top cardiovascular hospitals in the country.


The hospital had made the Thomson Reuters (now Truven Health Analytics) 100 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals® list for nine of the past 10 years. At that time, there were only 10 heart hospitals in the country that could make that claim. My mother knew why I encouraged her to go there, but as we went through the care process, Mom and I started making some observations.

I think the most disheartening observation was when Mom said, “You know, if you had not told me this was one of the best hospitals in the country, I never would have known. The staff and doctors were friendly and caring, but there was no indication anywhere in the building that this was one of the best in the nation—no one even mentioned it—and there was no sign of the awards or ratings anywhere in the building. It seems like it’s a well-kept secret. Wouldn’t patients like to know that they’re at one of the top heart hospitals in the country? I think it would go a long way toward reassuring them that they’re in good hands.” Later that day, she added, “And you know, I’m sure that all the donors who made this wonderful facility a reality would like us to know, too.

That’s my Mom. At 80 years old, she’s one of the sharpest ladies I know.

Today, I’m at a new organization, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, which just received notice that the three Exempla Hospitals in the Denver area rank in the top 5 percent of more than 4,500 hospitals nationwide for clinical excellence. That’s three of 262 hospitals recognized this year. So, in this organization, what can we do to ensure this news isn’t a well-kept secret?

Tactics for Sharing Performance

We work hard to achieve a level of clinical excellence that positions our organization among the best in the nation. It takes investment of time and dollars. It takes determination, teamwork, and a commitment to excellence. We do it because it’s the right thing to do; it’s our professional calling. But we can also capitalize on our accomplishments by using them to our competitive advantage.

One way to realize the competitive advantage of awards for clinical excellence is by celebrating these successes with our physicians, associates, and communities—and by sharing these and other accomplishments widely. Here are some tactics that can be used to spread the good word.

Publicly thank physicians, associates, volunteers, and community supporters for their efforts in achieving excellence. A full-page tribute placed in a prominent section of the Sunday newspaper, thanking and congratulating  all who were involved in the initiative, will always be well-received by physicians, staff, and volunteers. Publicly acknowledging their commitment to excellence demonstrates the values of the organization, creates pride (as those who are recognized are congratulated by their families, friends, and colleagues outside the organization), and tells the story of your organization’s accomplishment and dedication to excellence to your community, employers, and payers. Don’t err by trying to make this tribute an advertisement; it should be an honest, heartfelt thank-you to your physicians and staff. A nice touch is to have the tribute signed at the bottom by the CEO and the chairman of the board. I’ve actually seen such tributes framed and hanging in nurse managers’ offices and on clinical units.

A second tactic is to send a personalized letter of congratulations and thanks to physicians and associates from the executive team. To maximize impact, the letters should be addressed to the individual and signed (using an autopen machine). I’ve heard of such letters being hung on refrigerators at home. When these letters are mailed to the physicians’ and associates’ homes, their spouses and children can join in congratulating them, creating an extra sense of pride in the accomplishment and gratitude toward the organization for providing individual recognition.

A third tactic is a formal commendation from the board of directors in the form of a board resolution. Acknowledgement from the board relays the importance of striving for excellence and can be a great energizer for staff when they are asked to work on additional quality improvement projects and committees. Consider making copies of the board resolution, framing them, and asking executive team members to deliver them in person to each department by way of a congratulatory meeting with staff, managers, and directors.

Fourth, showcase the quality awards your organization receives in specially designated display areas. Don’t hide them in the executive suites or quality department; instead, put them on display for everyone to see. Focus on high-visibility areas, such as patient and staff entrances, the area outside the cafeteria, and the physicians’ main entrance. For specialty awards, be sure to also display the awards at the entrances to the clinical units. Patient and family waiting areas also are ideal spots to display recognition.

Fifth, consider referencing the award or recognition in welcome packets for patients and employees, on discharge paperwork, on consent forms, and in any form of communication with patients and the communities you serve. Use these vehicles and more as an opportunity to reinforce your message: Dear patient: We are committed to your care and safety. You’re in one of America’s tophospitals, as rated by the ABC rating agency.

And finally, don’t forget to tout your hospital or health system’s achievements on the organization’s website. Prominently display reference to an award on the home page of the website, with a link to more detailed information. Information about awards for clinical excellence could then lead into a spotlight on your organization’s quality transparency initiative, where performance data could be showcased for patients, their families, and the community your organization serves.

The Benefits of Celebrating Excellence

A well-run marketing campaign highlighting excellence in clinical care should:

  • Improve the community’s perception of the quality of care the organization provides
  • Create a sense of pride and accomplishment among your physicians and associates, which in turn may improve staff and physician engagement scores>
  • Accelerate quality and safety initiatives already under way and prime the engine for other quality improvement initiatives
  • Generate a competitive advantage based on quality

Speaking of staff pride, a personal thank you, a note of congratulations, or a simple token of appreciation can have substantial, long-term impact. As I’ve attended many events recognizing the contributions of staff in achieving clinical excellence, I’ve heard a variety of comments from managers and front-line associates. Here are just a few:

  • Wow, I didn’t know this was so important.
  • I really need to turn it up a notch and be continually vigilant about safety.
  • We really are doing a good job—they noticed.
  • Did you see that piece in the newspaper? I showed it to my husband and kids.
  • This is a great place to work. I’m going to recommend us to family and friends.

So get out there and celebrate your areas of excellence. Thank your physicians and associates and make sure everyone knows about your organization’s accomplishments. Because at the end ofthe day, if no one knows you’re delivering great quality, a competitive advantage based on value will never materialize.

John Byrnes, MD, is chief medical officer, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Denver, and a member of HFMA’s Western Michigan Chapter (

Publication Date: Friday, February 01, 2013

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