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How ASAN realizes its ‘patient-centered’ approach
  • By Kim Young-ju
  • Published 2017.03.03 09:07
  • Updated 2017.03.27 15:45
  • comments 0

Nearly two months have passed since the chaotic 2016 passed and a hopeful 2017 arrived. Tough situations facing Korea, domestic or foreign, have changed little, however. Many businesses are emphasizing innovation, saying, “We can’t survive without changes.” The medical industry is no exception. The Korea Biomedical Review is launching a series of articles on institutions and businesses seeking innovation through new attempts, to share their know-how with our readers. – Ed.

Patients going into surgery are anxious and uneasy, leaving the ease of family and entering the operation room alone. Just lying on a stretcher, staring at the hospital ceilings with the sound of staff’s feet ringing around you, is enough to up their anxiety. Each moment is nerve-wracking, regardless of what doctors will say to calm patients down.

To make this experience easier on patients, the ASAN Medical Center (AMC) in Seoul renovated its operation waiting room in November.

The first sight upon entering the room is a line of diagonally arranged stretcher beds. In the past, hospitals arranged these beds haphazardly, not separating one from another and disallowing for any privacy between patients. The diagonal arrangement was a way to create private booths and increase each patient’s sense of calm, as well as allow medical staff to quickly check up on a patient’s state at a single glance.

Stretcher and wheelchair booths lie neatly at an operation waiting room of the ASAN Medical Center in Seoul.

Each bed box has a sensor that activates LED lighting and a timer when a stretcher enters, marking the time a patient enters the waiting room and preventing them from waiting too long. Patients can easily access a button at the head of their beds to play music or call staff members.

At the other end of the room is another line of booths for patients who use wheelchairs. After realizing their fast-track patients tend to prefer wheelchair transportation over stretchers, the hospital has been increasing its wheelchair use. With such renovations, AMC has put every inch of its waiting room to good use.

Thorough research -- a secret to success

These changes were part of AMC’s 2015 project to alleviate pre-operative anxiety. With a broad range of new approaches — from applications that provide operational information to informative videos and pre-operative meetings with medical staff — the hospital has taken many steps to improve the patient experience.

AMC has become famous for its surgical work, performing 60,000 operations annually to take the first place in organ transplants and the nine most common cancer operations. The recent project has added to such a reputation.

AMC’s Innovation Design Center, which spearheaded the project, was essential to the research process in figuring out what patients wanted. Each step required meticulous effort with the team deciding on a project theme after long days and nights gathering information throughout the hospital.

Kim Jae-hak, director of the Innovation Design Center, said the entire center’s staff got involved in the process, visiting medical wards, outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, and laboratories.

“They sifted through countless topics, and ultimately narrowed them down to focus on the issue of pre-operative anxiety,” Kim said.

This decision followed two months of polls, interviews and on-site experiments involving patients, guardians, and medical staff. The process sought to understand what patients want to know before their operations, when they feel anxious and what exactly the reasons are.

Participants also set up a group chat with medical staff throughout the project period to discuss ideas and progress, to reflect the voices of people in the field directly on the project’s progress. Since the team was able to “grasp the fundamental cause” of anxiety in patients, Kim said he was confident their solutions would successfully help alleviate their fears.

All these efforts were in keeping with the business philosophy of Chung Ju-yung, founder of the Hyundai Group, the parent group of AMC, Kim said in an interview with The Korea Bio Medical Business Review.

Upon the dedication of this hospital in 1989, Chung was quoted as saying, “I hope that each and every individual working at this hospital, with the will and commitment to improving people’s health, will do everything in their power to heal and comfort the pain of its patients and their families.”

Kim emphasized that AMC’s ultimate goal is “patient-oriented care.”

“We launched the Innovation Design Center (IDC) when the hospital was approaching its 25th anniversary, reflecting back on how it began,” he said. “As such, it’s important to stay focused on the fundamental values of patient care as we look forward to further development.”

Most hospital staffs have done their best to contribute to this cause since the inception of IDC, and its most prominent example is “IdeaSEED.” Developed in 2015, IdeaSEED is an online forum where any hospital staff is free to share opinions with others freely, including ideas or suggestions regarding patient care.

This is Innovation Design Center’s publicity materials for its IdeaSEED program.

Once staff members post ideas, the center consults with the original posters and form teams to begin their implementation. Last year, they put about 20 new ideas and suggestions posted on IdeaSEED into practice. Examples include directional signs on the hospital floor, FAQs posted in emergency rooms, mission cards for infant patients, and a checklist of goods authorized by the Department of Medical Health.

It is clear that hospital staffs constantly get engage themselves in the project, Kim said, adding those who have direct contact with patients in medical wards and laboratories tend to suggest the most ideas.

One idea that gained particular traction was that of a nurse, who suggested checklists in the psychiatric ward. Previously, nurses had to conduct searches of guardian’s bags for items banned in the ward, but both sides often encountered difficulty with long searches lasting more than 30 minutes at times. So, they decided to just distribute checklists to guardians, who would personally report their possessions as one would at airport customs declarations. That not only saved time but improved the geniality of interactions on both sides.

Kim said that with the open sharing and implementation of ideas through projects like IdeaSEED, the hospital was able to see the culture of innovation coming to fruition. The question “What would this mean from the patient’s perspective?” has become more important than ever before in making decisions, he added.

Innovation Idea Center staff members pose in front of their office.(AMC)

Looking forward, the center hopes to continue its focus on developing new solutions, particularly those involving IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence and high technology, Kim said.

“We plan to increase the scope of our solutions by forging new connections with partners like universities and other industries,” he said.

When Tim Brown, CEO of the famed American design consulting firm IDEO, visited the hospital in 2013, he entreated Kim and his team to “be farsighted.” As changing a hospital’s culture requires a long-term timeline, it is imperative not to burn out quickly but move in slow but steady steps.

Kim says that they have just cleared only the first hurdle. Seen from the favorable responses from patients and visitors, however, it appeared clear the center and its staffs will be able to get over other obstacles – as long as they remain faithful to their values of patient-centered care,


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