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The University of Delaware is partnering with the Wilmington VA Medical Center for the VA Patient Experience Academy.
The University of Delaware is partnering with the Wilmington VA Medical Center for the VA Patient Experience Academy.

UD helping Wilmington VA Medical Center

Photo by Wilmington VA Medical Center and Evan Krape

Patient Experience Academy designed to bring hospitality to healthcare

Representatives of the Wilmington Veterans Affairs Medical Center recently gathered at the living wall inside the University of Delaware’s Tower at STAR for the VA Patient Experience Academy pre-activation kickoff.

With a mission “to make hospitals truly hospitable,” for the military veterans being treated, the Patient Experience Academy starts with educational help for managers from the VA medical center who are involved in supervising those who deliver care. Experience and engagement are addressed through a variety of learning methods, including short presentations, targeted readings, facilitated discussions and situational practice sessions.

Selected as the participants for the program’s first cohort, more than 20 managers from the Veterans Health Administration were welcomed to the newest building on UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) campus by Kathy Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences (CHS), and Bruce Weber, dean of the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, who both applauded the partnership of the CHS, the Lerner College and the Wilmington VAMC.

Vincent Kane, director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center, said, “I feel like we have not put in the time with training and investing in our staff by improving opportunities to learn from others,” He added, “So, to have the University of Delaware work with us, I am very confident this is going to make a difference for our veterans and our employees.”

Kane, who also emphasized that job training should be about improving the entire care experience and not just the technical aspects, noted the importance of beginning with the managers and said their feedback is critical in determining how the curriculum is adjusted for the subsequent cohorts.

Robert Boucher, Wilmington VAMC associate chief of staff, said the VA PXA is all about engaging the veterans at the earliest opportunity.

“Veterans have made it very clear that they expect a welcoming, respectful and hospitable experience from VA, and that VA must do better,” said Boucher. “We at VA agree. We don’t teach the essentials of hospitality well; we don’t really understand all of the nuances. It is not because we as humans are not good at this. It’s that we are not learning in the right way. We are not learning and applying the right skills. That, from my perspective, is when you bring in the pros.”

Ali Poorani, UD associate professor of Hospitality Business Management, director of Hospitality Associates for Research and Training (HART), and principal investigator of the PXA, said, “This is an exemplary program that uses a multidisciplinary collaboration among the University of Delaware College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Lerner College of Business and Economics’ Hospitality Business Management department, and Division of Professional and Continuing Studies.”

Designed for five 20-person cohorts of VA managers and associates from the Wilmington VAMC and VA primary care locations in New Jersey and Delaware, the initial phase of the PXA consists of five weekly, two-hour sessions in the Tower at STAR. The state-of-the-art facilities within the building, such as immersion rooms that can provide backdrops depicting the lobby of a medical center, allow for realistic simulations. Each cohort concludes with a follow-up session focusing on achievement stories 60 days after the last meeting. Upon the successful completion of the program, participants will receive a Patient Experience Academy certificate from the Lerner College of Business and Economics.

Poorani spoke about the lifetime value of a patient and the importance of having veterans return and become part of the Wilmington VAMC family.

“There is a difference between patient service and patient experience,” said Poorani. “Experience is connecting to customers’ emotions. What makes this challenging is that customers have different expectations, which makes managing those expectations a highly remarkable skill. We focus on that something extra, beyond excellent service. Excellent service is expected.”

Poorani praised the passion of the facilitators who are from both the hospitality industry and academics, including Kathy Smith, former senior vice president of human resources at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company; Bill Sullivan, managing director of the Courtyard by Marriott – Newark at the University of Delaware; Allan Carlsen, UD assistant professor of theatre; and Sheryl Kline, UD deputy dean of the Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of Hospitality Business Management.

“There is a strong correlation between patient experience and employee experience,” said Michael Renfrow, chief, patient experience consultation for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “I hope that as the employees go through this, it engages and empowers them as well. There is a possibility here to improve both employee experience and patient satisfaction.”

More than 20 representatives of the Wilmington VA Medical Center (VAMC) were welcomed to the University of Delaware’s Tower at STAR for the VA Patient Experience Academy (PXA) pre-activation kickoff.
More than 20 representatives of the Wilmington VA Medical Center (VAMC) were welcomed to the University of Delaware’s Tower at STAR for the VA Patient Experience Academy (PXA) pre-activation kickoff.

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