‘Our patients and families need us now more than ever’: Q&A with Molly Dwyer-White, M.P.H.

July 16, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

As the organization consistently adjusts to COVID-19 in order to keep employees, learners, patients and families safe, a focus has remained on continuing to provide the ideal patient experience — even amid tweaks to visitor policies and other protocols.

To discuss the myriad of ways Michigan Medicine is working to keep people connected, Headlines recently sat down with Molly Dwyer-White, M.P.H., the director of patient experience. Here’s what she had to say! 

Q: Michigan Medicine has long been focused on improving the patient experience. What are your priorities that guide this process?

MDW: Ultimately, what I envision is that across Michigan Medicine and its affiliates, we can reliably deliver consistent patient- and family-centered care, where all patients and their families are welcomed, respected and involved in decision-making as we design and manage individualized and comprehensive care plans.

Q: What have been some of the challenges the organization has faced when it comes to providing the optimal patient experience during COVID-19?

MDW: Finding ways to keep families connected, even while visitation is limited, has been one of the biggest challenges and hardships. As I mentioned, the cornerstone of patient- and family-centered care is encouraging and supporting patients and families in participating as full partners in their care. As such, Michigan Medicine has had a very robust family presence policy which helps support that partnership at the point of care. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, we had to introduce temporary measures for managing patient care and families in a way that supports physical distancing — while still recognizing the need for compassionate, consistent care and the best possible patient, family and staff experience. 

As always, we also have to give deep consideration into equitable care and experiences — going further to consider, learn and respond to what matters most to patients/families from diverse backgrounds and communities.

Q: From those challenges, do you see potential for positive changes for patients and families?

MDW: Yes, as much as this has been a difficult and painful time, there have been many innovations and examples of people working together in new ways to create improved options and experiences for patients and families. The fast track of Virtual Care is one incredible component — providing new access avenues and more convenient options for patients to receive care without having to worry about the commute or parking. Another element is looking at how we are supporting the language needs for patients with limited English by providing streamlined access to interpreters, including through telehealth. It’s very exciting work that underscores our ultimate goal of improving care — but also in making equitable experiences in health care an explicit priority.

Q: Looking forward, what are you most excited about?

MDW: I am encouraged that this trajectory will lead us toward expanded support for diverse patient populations. I’m also so thankful to our hundreds of patient and family advisors that have helped us rethink and reprioritize care. They have been important partners through all of this change — including helping us rethink how we can support a family presence in an era when we will likely have limited visitors for some time. 

We know that the practice of engaging patients and families leads to better decisions, processes and experiences. Through their stories and perspectives, we are better able to identify challenges and incorporate ways to address them. One example is through a partnership with nursing that incorporates new methods in building the bridge between family members, care teams and the patient, even when family cannot be bedside. We have also worked on addressing patient and community concerns about returning to clinics safely.

Q: How have our faculty and staff stepped to support patients and families during COVID-19?

MDW: Michigan Medicine staff have been incredible — heroic in saving lives on a grand scale, but also by providing small, compassionate, meaningful moments. From the staff in Environmental Services that worked extra hours to help ensure we were meeting new infection prevention standards, to the physicians and nurses providing critical care and holding hands when family could not be present, to social workers and house officers calling family members around the clock to keep them involved and informed in their loved one’s care. Of course, security staff stepped up to keep us safe, and interpreters made sure critical COVID-19 information was translated into a variety of languages not only for our patients but for the surrounding communities.

There were also so many staff members who volunteered to step into new areas despite it being outside of their “normal” work. Starting drive-through testing, supporting hotlines or even volunteering to deliver meals to front-line staff from the labs to the RICU. It goes to show how we all come together and support each other when we need to elevate and focus our care.

Being there for each other helps us provide more compassionate, empathic and safe care for our patients — we saw this again and again over the past few months.

Q: How can faculty and staff engage with OPE and improve the patient experience?

MDW: I know that people that work for Michigan Medicine do so because they want to make a difference. Our patients and families need us now more than ever. Social isolation is a huge public health risk. So I think it’s key to think about how can we hone in on the basics, smiling and greeting one another. A key component of what matters most to our patients and families is providing compassionate and consistent communication. That’s a great starting point. Listening to concerns helps us learn patient needs, preferences and values. Then we can integrate them into well-coordinated care delivery!

We are always interested in partnering with any team member that has ideas or the desire to support a culture of caring and a level of engagement that is truly memorable for our patients, families, staff and learners. We need everyone to be committed to improving the patient experience — and share ideas or lessons learned so that we can continually improve.

Q: Finally, tell us a little bit about you. What do you love to do outside of work?

MDW: I like to spend as much time outside as possible, trail running and cycling are two of my favorites, but any time by the sea is a bonus! My three children keep me busy, and remind me on a daily basis of the importance of play and why it’s worth working for a better world. 

Want to learn even more about patient experience efforts during COVID-19? Dwyer-White stopped by The Wrap, which can be found via the YouTube video at the top of the page or media player below. Please note, the media player is not compatible with Internet Explorer, so open in a new browser or find on your personal device to take a listen!