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Dr. Junhong Zhang speaks examines patient Troy Lee King of Wilson at ECU Physicians’ new general internal medicine practice inside Moye Medical Center. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

ECU Physicians Program Puts 'Patients First'

By Doug Boyd

ECU Physicians is shooting for a better experience in all aspects of patient interaction with staff and health care providers through a new program called “Patients First.”

ECU Physicians’ new general internal medicine outpatient practice site is now open on the second floor of Moye Medical Center. The practice is at 521 Moye Blvd. ECU Physicians’ cardiology and pulmonary and critical care medicine practices are on the first floor. The new practice site will improve efficiency, comfort and convenience for patients, said Dr. Paul Bolin, interim chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine. ECU Physicians is the group practice of the medical school.

General internal medicine outpatients had previously been seen at the Brody Outpatient Center Module C and Medical Pavilion Suite 6.

The new building has 28 exam rooms on the 14,121-square-foot second floor. General internal medicine has also added acupuncture and stress tests. Follow-up appointments have been lengthened to allow patients to have more time with their health care providers. The practice is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. To contact ECU Physicians’ general internal medicine practice, call 744-3229.

Officials began working on Patients First during the summer. Results have appeared in the form of the new medical practice sites at Moye Medical Center; a new tagline for ECU Physicians, “Smart medicine”; new advertisements; a new ECU Physicians Web site; and more. In November, patients will be able to give their opinions through a new survey.

“The reason our clinical services exist is to take care of patients,” said Dr. Nicholas Benson, vice dean of the Brody School of Medicine and acting medical director of ECU Physicians. “Unless we consistently put patient needs first with every patient every time, we’re not doing a good job providing that care,” Benson said. Likewise, he added, if customer service attributes are lacking in clinical areas, “then we’re missing the mark in educating medical students and residents as well.”

ECU Physicians is making major investments and improvements, many aimed at the goals of Patients First, said Christopher Collins, interim executive director of ECU Physicians and a consultant with ECG Management Consultants. Examples are new medical and information technologies, new methods of scheduling appointments to allow patients to see physicians when it is convenient for the patients, new ways to receive feedback from patients such as dedicated phone lines, and new educational and marketing materials.

“Overall, this campaign is to raise awareness and make a public pledge that the faculty and staff of ECU Physicians has and always will keep patients first in everything we do every day,” Collins said.

Patients First is a result of the business turnaround effort that began in August 2006. In the spring, ECG Management Consultants recommended developing a customer-service campaign and establishing a group to look at ways to monitor and improve operations and raise awareness of ECU Physicians. 

“We consistently receive high marks for our quality of care,” Collins said. “This effort is to ensure that we match this across the entire clinical enterprise.” In addition, some clinical areas might implement “advanced access,” a form of scheduling where some slots are for same-day appointments while others are for advance appointments.

When patients have complaints, they may call clinics and leave a voice mail, which sometimes is more comfortable, Collins said, or they can press a number and be routed to a live person around the clock. All issues will be tracked through a new patient feedback system to ensure follow-up occurs on every item, big or small, Collins said.

As part of launching Patients First, approximately 730 clinical and support staff members recently attended a half-day customer service session at the Greenville Convention Center led by The Studer Group, a national firm specializing in health care customer service.

“It gave me a fresh perspective on my job in the health care industry,” Christina Moser, nurse manager for the ECU plastic surgery practice, said. “I try to put myself in (patients’) shoes as much as I can, and that seminar provided new techniques on how to do that.”

While ECU has held customer-service seminars in the past, Benson said Patients First is broader and “involves every aspect of clinical operations.” Also, plans are to reward units that perform well on satisfaction surveys, Collins said. Benson and Collins are leading the effort under the direction of the ECU Physicians board. A committee of department administrators and representatives from group practice administration and patient-access services is also working on the effort.

This page originally appeared in the October 26, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at