Live from #HM13: Feinberg Shares How UCLA Puts Patients “at the Center of Everything”

In his plenary address to attendees at Hospital Medicine 13, sponsored by the Society for Hospital Medicine, David Feinberg, president of UCLA Health System and CEO of UCLA Hospital System, shared how he has led his organization to “Healing Humankind One Patient at a Time.”

When Feinberg agreed to serve UCLA as interim CEO several years ago, patient satisfaction scores–of which he was unaware–hovered around 26 percent. Feinberg, a child psychologist, was accustomed to eye-level, intimate conversations with his patients. He began roaming the hospital hallways for a couple of hours a day, talking with patients and their families.

“What I realized after about three months was, although we were ranked number 3 by U.S. News and World Report, no one in the hospital was in charge of care,” he said. “I witnessed unprofessional behavior in a dirty hospital that also served cold, bad food.”

Feinberg set out to change it all: mission, hiring, culture. “We can face every problem if we have the patient facing us and helping us,” he said. Hiring for a customer service orientation and empowering frontline staff meant that anything was possible:

“I tell staff, ‘Make it happen as if each patient is a member of your own family. The only time you’ll get into trouble is when you don’t.'”

The entire organization is now aligned in its belief that it’s important to get patient care right, and that it’s important to track metrics that demonstrate progress, Feinberg said. Results have been impressive: Patient satisfaction scores now hover around 99 percent.

An audience member asked how Feinberg resolves the tension between patient satisfaction and cost. Rather than being a money pit, patient satisfaction efforts are a cost saver, a referral generator, and a gift driver, Feinberg replied.

What’s his next BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) for UCLA? To render hospitals obsolete.

“If people would eat right, quit smoking, use alcohol in moderation, stop shooting one another, and wear seat belts, there would be little need for most of us in this room. My goal is to close all the hospitals,” he concluded.