By Virginia Smyth, writer, and Traci Daberko, illustrator
When a Group Health team was asked to design a better medical center, they dreamed big: No patient waiting. Care delivered in one room. Fewer errors. An easy way for staff to collaborate on patient care. What has emerged is nothing less than the medical center of tomorrow.
Last time you visited a Group Health medical center for some preventive care tests, it probably went something like this: You stood in line to check in. Then you sat in a waiting area. After awhile, your name was called. Before you were ushered into an exam room, you were asked to step on a scale to get your weight. Nearby, clinic staff were talking on the phone and consulting with one another. Once in the exam room, you waited some more. Your doctor arrived, and ordered some lab work and a new prescription. You walked to the lab. More waiting. And then to the pharmacy. More waiting. Finally — after a lot of walking from here to there — you were done. Oh, except for that follow-up appointment you forgot to make.
A Better Way
If you left thinking, "Surely there is a better way," Wellesley Chapman, MD, agrees. "If we're able to deliver an experience to the patient where they get the services they need without wasting any time, and we give them great customer service, I know they'll be blown away," predicts Dr. Chapman, who is medical chief of Group Health Medical Centers Burien clinic.
He's among more than 200 Group Health staff who have been working for almost a year on a prototype medical center that aspires to those goals.
In a highly collaborative effort, Group Health doctors, nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists, administrators, executives, and patients worked shoulder-to-shoulder with architects and builders with the goal of designing a new medical center. Anthony Klaassen, MD, medical chief of our Puyallup clinic, puts it this way: "We went through a process where we designed a health care facility, and at the same time we were redesigning how health care itself would be delivered."
The Patient Experience
Long before beginning to draw a design, this team spent months delving into what patients want out of a medical visit and attempting to answer questions like these:
- What would the ideal patient experience look like?
- Can we reduce the time patients have to wait?
- What would make the experience more relaxing?
- What will help our medical teams easily collaborate?
- How can we bring services like blood draws and injections to the patient?
- Can the building's design support care improvements?
They came up with solutions, and then built a life-size cardboard clinic in a Tukwila warehouse to test their ideas. Some ideas worked, some didn't. They brainstormed more ideas and did more testing. And now the result of their work is coming to life in Puyallup where a new medical center is taking shape, scheduled to open in late fall.
What are patients likely to experience? It will be something like this: You'll walk into a calm, soothing clinic environment and will be immediately greeted by a staff member who will direct you to a care room. Once in the room — which has separate doors for patients and staff — a staff member joins you. You may be asked to step on the scale that's located right in the room. Your doctor arrives and decides you need some lab tests. In comes a technician with a portable cart stocked with lab supplies. If your doctor has also ordered a new prescription, a pharmacist may counsel you in the care room about how to take the medication. Then another staff member stops in to make a follow-up appointment. On your way out, you swing by the pharmacy — conveniently located by the front entrance — where your new medication is already waiting for you.
A New Model
This story, though, is about more than one medical center. It's about an organization determined to create better health through continuous innovation, and a leadership team daring to ask how medical care can evolve to dramatically serve patients better and to a higher standard of care — not in the distant future, but tomorrow.
Patients of the new Puyallup clinic will be immediate beneficiaries of this work, but many of the efficiencies uncovered during the design process will be adapted for use at existing Group Health Medical Centers locations. And future medical centers that Group Health builds will use this design as a template.
Quick and easy access to services, better care, a low-stress environment, efficient use of resources. That's the promise of the Group Health medical center of the future.