3 Tips on Instilling a Culture of Service in your Emergency Department

Jessica Hughes, MD, FACEP – President, Summit Medical Group of Wyoming

No matter what acuity level or patient volume your emergency department handles, delivering high quality, efficient care is important. It requires a high performing team. High-performing teams have a strong provider retention rate, throughput metrics, patient outcomes, quality metrics, and patient satisfaction score. Becoming a high-performing team is worth prioritizing, but it is not driven by a laser-focus on metrics. Instead, it is the byproduct of a great team culture.

The emergency department teams I work with have various pain points. Often they need help with staffing or improving throughput metrics or Sepsis or Stroke performance. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges any one emergency department faces, however, there is one theme I find consistently makes a positive impact on department performance—whether it’s a staff issue or a performance issue. That theme is departmental culture. Within this post, I’ll highlight my three top recommendations for improving emergency department culture to positively impact common emergency department challenges, including everything from provider recruiting and retention to quality and throughput metrics.

Focus on People and Give them an Outlet to be Heard

One of the most influential things you can do as a leader is listen. This starts with your own mindset. I suggest taking on a servant leadership mindset. Think of yourself as a working for the team, not the team working for you. Starting in this headspace allows you to focus on listening to and serving your team’s needs. This approach provides team members an outlet to be heard and builds trust.

I create outlets for team feedback by rounding in-person with team members and holding a provider meeting every month. The key is to not only listen the team’s needs, but to take action on what is shared. Over time providers learn that when they share their needs they are heard and supported. This creates a culture where team members are engaged and feel fulfilled.

Foster a Culture of Service

In addition to demonstrating a servant leadership mindset, educate the team about the benefits of serving others within your department and throughout the hospital. This requires making time for team members to get to know each other inside and outside of work. The more lines of communication are opened; the more providers understand how they can better serve patients and colleagues. This servant mindset benefits provider, staff, and nursing relations, which will lead to a noticeable patient experience improvement.

One way we provide an opportunity for our providers to get to know each other better is through our patient experience group sERve. The group regularly holds team-building outings outside of the hospital, during which we provide community service to local organizations. This outlet has led to a marked improvement in team morale and patient feedback scores.

Think Beyond the 4 Walls of the ED

Establishing a culture of service within your emergency department will have a ripple effect throughout the hospital. The best servant leaders engage outside the ED with hospital leadership and with clinical leaders from other departments. For example, sitting on medical executive meetings, attending peer reviews, and contributing to hospital-wide quality improvement efforts. An emergency department with a strong culture can lead the way toward better integration across all hospital teams.

The Results

When emergency department leaders focus on creating a service-oriented culture, the positive impact has a ripple effect across the emergency department and in many cases, throughout the entire hospital. When culture improves, so does throughput, quality performance, patient experience, and provider retention. In short, a positive culture of service is a win-win for patients, providers, and hospitals alike.