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Interview with John J. Morris, CPME, Executive Director

John Morris, executive director of Associated Cardiovascular Consultants, is convinced that medical practices can learn something from the hospitality industry and, specifically, from the successful approaches that The Ritz Carlton Hotel Co. applies to hiring, training and motivating its 29,000 employees and providing service to guests at its 59 hotels.

The success of the Ritz-Carlton approach is reflected in the company's employee turnover rate. Industry-wide turnover for hotel employees reaches 150 to 200 percent. At Ritz-Carlton, the rate is only 23 percent. This alone may account for the interest other types of businesses and organizations have taken in how Ritz-Carlton does it. To satisfy this interest, the company offers seminars in training and organizational effectiveness to managers and executives of all kinds at its headquarters in Chevy Chase, MD.

"Ritz Carlton does several things applicable to medical practices," Mr. Morris concluded after attending a recent seminar. He listed the following:

  • Hiring the right people
  • Daily training
  • Attention to guests' (patients) preferences.

"Our thought is that with the coming of age of the Baby Boomers, who are known to be demanding consumers, medical practices are going to have to adopt some of the practices of the hospitality business in dealing with patients. Baby Boomers don't want to wait in line. They want 24-hour access to what they want to know - for example, medical records. All businesses will have to cater to them."

Superior service

To illustrate the quality of service Ritz-Carlton provides and the ability of its employees at every level to provide it, Mr. Morris cited two examples from separate hotels, the first involving a valet and the second a doorman.

At Philadelphia's Ritz-Carlton, a guest couple marking an anniversary had dinner reservations at a Center City restaurant. When they approached the valet to get their car, he asked if they were going to dinner. "Why not let us take you?" he volunteered, explaining that it would save the time and inconvenience of driving and finding parking. The couple agreed and soon a car pulled up to take them to the restaurant, where the maitre d' welcomed them as Ritz-Carlton guests and, about 20 minutes before they were ready to leave, summoned the car to pick them up and return them to the hotel.

In Boston, a woman who was to present a seminar arrived at the Ritz-Carlton after being caught in a downpour. Noticing her wet clothing, the doorman engaged her in conversation and, when he discovered her plight, summoned the hotel manager. In turn, the manager took her to a nearby women's clothing store, where she got a new outfit, including shoes, at the hotel's expense. "But I'm not staying here," the woman explained. "Yes, but you're giving a presentation, and we want you to feel your best," the manager replied.

These are what Ritz-Carlton calls "Wow!" stories and, Mr. Morris said, they are the kind of unexpected, above-and-beyond service that Associated Cardiovascular Consultants (ACC) wants to provide for its patients.

Hiring the right people

To fill positions at all levels, Ritz-Carlton, with the help of Talent + of Nebraska, conducts lengthy interviews designed to identify talents and chart themes, defined as recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are constant over time. Among the 11 themes charted are factors such as work ethic, service and exactness. The selection process may take as much as two months. A two-day orientation follows an applicant's selection. During this time, new employees learn about their workplace and their co-workers, what is expected of them and what they can expect from the company. On the 21st day of employment, all new employees must attend a third day of orientation. At this time, the lessons and values of the initial orientation are reinforced.

Mr. Morris said ACC would implement a similar approach, including a two-day orientation for new employees.

Training and motivation

The Ritz-Carlton motto, "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen," provides a foundation for training and motivating employees. It emphasizes mutual respect and self-respect, creates a positive work environment and can be accepted and appreciated by people of any culture or walk of life. But the attitude fostered by the motto needs to be continually encouraged and nurtured. This Ritz-Carlton does in its daily line-ups. The line-ups brings together employees in every department for 10 or 15 minutes at the start of each shift to get and exchange information needed to insure that they reach the company's standards of service. Mr. Morris envisions adapting the concept to provide daily information and training to ACC employees.

"Ritz-Carlton has set a high bar to reach. Over the next 10 years, medicine is not going to be practiced the way it has been," Mr. Morris said. Among the reasons for the anticipated changes, he cited increasing costs, fundamental changes in health insurance and patients' rising expectations. "They are going to ask how good a job can you do and how well will we be treated. We want to make coming to the doctor's office as efficient and as pleasant as possible. The people who come to see our doctors are often not feeling well. Why give them more aggravation? If anything, we should do it better than the Ritz does."

Patients' preferences

Adapting the Ritz-Carlton approach to hiring, training and motivation to ACC's needs will be easy compared to providing for patients' preferences in a manner similar to the way Ritz-Carlton provides for the preferences of guests, but Mr. Morris is exploring ways to do just that.

One possibility is the use of "ambassadors" who will greet patients, guide them to and through the offices and, in the hospital setting, be available to meet with the families of patients, collect their questions and, in the interest of getting answers to them as quickly as possible, convey them to doctors. The ambassadors will also follow up with families after they have heard from the doctors in case new questions arise.

Mr. Morris attributes Ritz-Carlton's success with these methods to a firm commitment from the top management, a clear message to employees and daily reminders that the company is trying to make people feel good. He believes that ACC can bring those same elements to bear in a medical-health care environment and achieve similar success.

About the Executive Director

John Morris has been in the medical industry for 32 years. He spent the first 13 years at a manufacturer of medical laboratory equipment where he learned about listening to the customer, designing quality into a product, and using statistics to control engineering and manufacturing.

The next 10 years he worked for a cardiac services company where he learned about delivering consistent medical services to physicians and patients.

For the past nine years, he has been managing the business side of Associated Cardiovascular Consultants, P.A. He's focused on delivery of consistent, high quality medical care to the practice's patients; improving the workplace environment for the staff and improving the physician's quality of life.

He is a Certified Medical Practice Executive as recognized by the Medical Group Management Association.

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