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VA Maryland Health Care System


Health Watch Spring 2017

Improved Customer Service

Small changes can make big differences

Photo of a group of clinicians.Veterans and family members have noticed numerous small changes that have been introduced throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System that are adding up to significant improvements, and they're letting us know with notes, emails, letters and social media posts. Rodney, a Veteran patient, sent a note about his experience with a dental hygienist at the Perry Point VA Medical Center, saying, "Monica is always on time and professional. She is great at what she does and is always positive. . . I feel confident that I will get my dental work done properly. She cares about Veterans." Another Veteran patient, Timothy, wrote, "It's not often that people go the extra mile to take care of another. I can tell that you do your job because you care about Veterans, and not just for the pay check."

Family members are contacting us, too. Mrs. T., the wife of a Veteran patient, called saying, "I would like to thank the whole detox team. My husband got the best medical treatment during his stay. The nurses gave the best care and were helpful and kind. The whole team gave us hope. We will forever be thankful."

Patients have been noting the changes in their survey responses as well, with patient satisfaction scores spiking as a result of the improvements. Veterans are also leaving comments on their survey forms. For example, Isaac wrote, "I know this survey is supposed to be anonymous, but I would like to have my comments duly noted: I have been provided exemplary care, and everyone has provided ‘outstanding' care to me directly or indirectly." Robert mailed a hand-written note saying, "The Apprecio-Gram does not have enough room to say the things I want to say. You and your team are a great reflection to all who know what you do. Please, please, please keep up your good work and thank my [care] team."

So what has changed? Significant improvements that help Veterans access care have been implemented, including same-day acute primary care appointments, same-day telephone appointments, a new follow-up clinic for Emergency Department visits, and much more.

"We want to make sure that the decisions we make are always patient and family centered," said Dr. Adam M. Robinson, Jr, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. "This is about our Veteran patients and their family members. If we keep that as the undergirding of what we do, then we will be successful," he said, noting that "we have worked hard to hire more than 50 new staff, including 20 providers, nurses and administrative staff to address the needs of Maryland Veterans."

The use of observation beds, among other innovations, has reduced the need to hospitalize patients. When patients do need to be admitted, other changes have also been introduced to improve the inpatient experience. For instance, registered nurse turnover rates have improved, ensuring that experienced nurses remain on duty to continue providing high-quality care to Veterans. "This represents significant benefits since the health care system isn't always having to spend time and resources to constantly orient new nurses," said Dr. Sandra Marshall, chief of staff at the VA Maryland Health Care System. "We have also implemented steps and measures to provide great follow-up care after discharge to prevent patients from having to be readmitted to any hospital within 30 days of their discharge," she added.

To help make improvements, the health care system is asking Veterans about their inpatient experience as it relates to physician and nurse communication, medication education, pain management, the discharge process, staff responsiveness, noise levels at night, and room cleanliness. Veterans can respond to patient satisfaction questions from their room using the GetWellNetwork, which is available on their bedside monitor and allows medical center staff to respond quickly to Veteran concerns. The GetWellNetwork also allows inpatients to learn more about their medical conditions, access information about hospital services, and communicate with their Patient-Aligned Care Team (PACT) members using MyHealtheVet and secure messaging. Additionally, the GetWellNetwork provides inpatients with access to normal television programming, movies, music, video games and the Internet. Inpatients are able to check e-mail, pay bills or play on-line games directly from their bedside thanks to the GetWellNetwork.

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