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Interview with Kathleen Benner, Part I: Enable Communication in New, Meaningful Ways

Posted by ClearDirections on March 16th, 2011 in Communication, Hospital Management, Innovation | 5 Comments

After reading about Kathleen Benner, the vibrant and energetic president of Hospital Companions and Empowering Pages, both of which are based in Hinsdale, IL, in a Crain’s Chicago Business article last year, I connected with her to find ways to help her healthcare startup. She also is an attorney and mother of three with her entrepreneur husband, all who keep her balanced. To view more about her healthcare businesses, visit http://hospitalcompanions.com/ and http://empoweringpages.com/.  Her companies’ mission is to bring peace of mind to both the patients and families they serve. Read on to hear more about her ideas to help you become a “Best Competitor.”

Enable Communication in New, Meaningful Ways

Stillman: Kathleen, tell me a little bit about your businesses, Hospital Companions and Empowering Pages.

Benner: They’re pretty self-explanatory by the titles as well, but Hospital Companions, is  that service, in a service industry, we provide companions for people who are in the hospital, to better support the family and the patient.  So, we have a companion that can go along with a patient all the way from check-in to getting them settled in, staying with them during their stay, check-out and transitioning home or transitioning to rehab.

We don’t do home care, but we do offer institutional care.  So, if you’re in a hospital, if you’re in a rehab center, a nursing home, we’re able to help and assist and become part of that care team.  We don’t provide healthcare.  We fall more on the spectrum of logistical and emotional support.

So, we offer many amenities and supports for patients and families, such as our web application, called a Patient PageSM, it’s a web-based communication tool that keeps family ,friends, patient and the companion engaged in  very effective and efficient communication.  That’s one of our tools.

And, we do everything from travel arrangements for out-of-town family who come in.  We make sure that when family is around, they know the lay of the land.  They know, okay, where is the cafeteria?  What time does it open and close?  Where is the best place to park?  We view our mission as to make this experience, a hospitalization experience, as easy as it can be.  We try to take the little bumps in the road and smooth those out.  The medical team, of course, is attacking the larger issues.  What we’re trying to do is best support the patient and their family through this so that they have more strength on the other end when they’re going to have to do the healing.

Stillman: I love that, more strength on the end when they need to do the true healing after the hospital.  That’s great.

Benner: Yes – recovering doesn’t end right when you’re discharged from the hospital.  You’ve been in the medical community.  You know that when you’re discharged from the hospital, you’re not well.  You are just not critical anymore.  You just don’t need round-the-clock medical expertise.  When they’re discharged from the hospital, people need a lot of support.  Our vision is of someday there being a cooperative experience during the hospitalizations with the families and even once at home with the hospital.  So, if we are better able to support the family, they’re better able to support the patient, and the patient will get better faster.  We don’t have exact data on that, but it’s kind of common sense, so we believe that.

Then, we developed this web application, the Patient PageSM, because we found communication really to be the lynchpin.  The better communication, the better the outcomes will be.  We strongly believe that.  The web application was so popular and such a hit with all of our families, and they gave us lots of input as to what they’d like to see on it. So, we have tweaked it over the couple years that we’ve been using it, and this application became such a useful tool in our business, we decided to offer it to other healthcare companies.  . If they would like to license the application then they are able to brand and offer their own Patient PageSM, resident page, homecare page or patriot page.

The people that we’ve been talking to are mostly in home care, so you can get a branded home care page for your home care company.  We don’t offer home care, but we deal with a lot of home care people because we transition out of hospital.  Now, if someone had a Patient PageSM up in the hospital, it would be so great if they’re transitioned to a home care company where that home care helper could update the page, or the manager at the home care company could update the page, and keep family and friends informed and involved to continue kind of this wonderful communication that allows everyone to help support one another.

Hospice care, of course, would also be a great fit for our web application.  We’ve approached some not-for-profits to allow them to use the application.  We just launched Empowering Pages,  and we already have one program for a residential facility that’s almost ready to go active.  We think Empowering Pages has a really bright future, because better communication breeds better outcomes, which is better business.

So, we think moving it over from the consumer end where we’re using our Patient PageSM to a business-to-business model makes a lot of sense, because it’s going to impact the bottom line of these businesses that use it.  They’re going to have happier patients and families, in addition to those who join and visit the page.  For instance, if you have a home care company, and Marcy down the street has a page up, and you’re one of her neighbors.  You find out about her page, and you go on it to send Marcy a message and see how she’s doing, and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Well, now you know the name of Marcy’s home care company.  And, now when you need home care or someone you know needs home care, you know a name.

Generally, if somebody has home care, we know they have a home care visitor.  We don’t know what company they’re with because they tend to travel in private vehicles.  So, for brand identification and spreading your brand name, we think that it’s going to be a really good tool.  So, that’s Hospital Companions and then how we spun into also supporting businesses with Empowering Pages.

Stillman: When you look at your experiences, from your grandfather and your own personal experience with your children, yourself in the hospital, what programs and services do you feel help make hospitals more competitive or more patient-friendly, more patient-focused?

Benner: What I know now is different from what I knew then.  The experiences that led us up to Hospital Companions, I didn’t really see any really good programs that made the hospital competitive.  Now, because of research and being exposed and being in so many different hospitals, I see more of that.  And, the patient-centered care push is amazing.  The Planetree hospitals, some of the things that they put into effect are similar to our philosophies with environment really being part of the healing and the overall attitude of patient- and family-centered care.  Some hospitals are really doing it, and some hospitals are saying they’re doing it, and other hospitals just haven’t gotten there yet.  But, I think it’s a great program and a great goal for hospital systems.

People who are now looking into medical home and using that, I think that that is going to be amazing, and that will be a competitive advantage if hospitals institute that appropriately and there really is a medical home and a good source of communication among patient,their home physician and any specialists, pharmacists, therapists, etc. .  When someone does have a more complex medical issue and you’re shuffled specialist to specialist, you’re almost in charge of keeping the communication line open and what did the specialist say.  You’ll go back to your regular doctor, and, “Oh, what did the specialist say?”  Now, it might be in the chart, but it might not.  The objective test results will be in the chart, but will the subjective impressions in conversation?  They won’t be.

So, medical home seems to be a real good step in the right direction because, again, it addresses the communication and support of one patient.  And, better communication, better outcomes, better business.  So it really is good for, not just the patient and the doctor but, the whole health system, because patients and their family docs are communicating more effectively with specialists and there is a great ‘point person’ in the medical home physician.

Stillman: It seems to be a theme, and obviously communication is such a simple, simple task – something we’re all given the gift of … being able to speak and write.  It is the easiest thing to forget to do well, and it can cost someone’s life.

Benner: Absolutely.

In our next post, you’ll hear more of our interview with Kathleen Benner of Hospital Companions and Empowering Pages.  Subscribe to the Best Competitor Blog to read stimulating ideas for improving the American healthcare system and ways hospitals, systems, large medical groups and healthcare product manufacturers can better compete in today’s marketplace. We welcome your suggestions for future interview subjects or topics. Simply leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

5 Responses to “Interview with Kathleen Benner, Part I: Enable Communication in New, Meaningful Ways”

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  3. Dirk Willer says:

    Great message as usual.

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