Health and Human Services Chief: Cincinnati Children’s a Leader in Quality Health Care

Monday, April 05, 2010

The future of health care is here. And it’s in practice at Cincinnati Children’s.

That’s what the nation’s top health care official declared after touring the medical center Monday morning and seeing how patient-centered care and the use of information technology translate into high quality health care.

“What I have seen is a tribute to a lot of good work,” Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told a gathering of about 100 hospital employees at the end of her visit. “You are an example of what the future looks like. I look forward to using (your work) as an example of best practices.”

Sebelius, a Cincinnati native who visited the hospital at the invitation of President and CEO Michael Fisher, said she was impressed how Cincinnati Children’s incorporates patient and family needs and wishes into the care. One family showed her how they helped design a “patient portal” that gives them 24/7 access to the medical record for the family.

“This term patient centered is used a lot,” she said, “but to see what it really means here is impressive. You have many great initiatives I am anxious to share.”

Sebelius acknowledged that much of the focus of the recent public health-care debate has been on insurance coverage. But she said the underlying system needs to be reformed as well. She said she hopes her department of HHS can use its influence as health care’s largest payer to push for improvements in health care information technology as a driver of patient quality.

“You are one of the examples of not only best practices, but you are one of the leaders … to reform the health care delivery system,” she said.

At one stop on her tour, Sebelius met a child not quite two months old who was born prematurely and is still in the newborn intensive care unit. After getting an update on the young boy’s condition – he just had another surgery on Friday – she saw how nurses use bar codes to check the patient and his medication to make sure he is getting the right dose at the right time. The information on a computer monitor glowed green to let the nurse know how to proceed.

“This is fantastic,” Sebelius said.

She used similar words elsewhere. “Wow,” was uttered more than once.

At one stop, she visited with a child who recently was removed from her parents’ insurance when she got married. Luckily for her, a social worker from Hamilton County, Ohio, is on site and was able to work with hospital staff to help her get signed up for Medicaid and other programs. Scott Hamlin, hospital chief financial officer, said as far as he knows, Cincinnati Children’s is the only pediatric hospital with such a close relationship with its public funding sources.

“It makes such good sense to have all the resources in one place,” Sebelius said, adding she’d like to promote this relationship as a “strategy that works.”

During her stop at the outpatient clinic to discuss the online access to medical records, the HHS secretary listened intently as a mom said that instead of bothering doctors and nurses with questions, she can use Internet access to the hospital’s databases to learn how to take care of her daughter. She said if she has questions, she can send email and hears back that same day with an answer.

Sebelius said she was glad to hear that “ownership” of the medical record resided with the patient and not with the hospital. “What a novel idea,” she wisecracked to the delight of the audience.

At the end of the tour and press conference, Fisher said he hoped Sebelius would not be a stranger. He said Cincinnati Children’s takes its leadership role seriously and is working tirelessly to provide better outcomes, improved experiences and overall value to patients and families. Sebelius left with the message intact.

“To reform the health care delivery system, this will be a great example to share across the country and to point people back here,” she said. “This is what the future looks like for a lot of institutions around the country where quality improvement is still an aspiration.”

Contact Information

Thomas McCormally, 513-636-9682,