I am a patient experience professional and I’m very passionate about sharpening my skills in this people based field. I am relatively new to the field but I can talk patient satisfaction scores with the best of them. I can facilitate a patient experience class in my sleep and I do my best to not only talk the talk but walk the walk. As excited and engaged as I’ve been, the relevance and importance of what I do didn’t resonate with me until I had an aunt who required acute and then eventually (and sadly) hospice care.
This is not to say that I’ve never been in a hospital. I have, however, I can honestly say I have truly been fortunate. My two most recent hospitalizations were to have my two children. I had a great experience for both but having a baby for me was a happy time focusing more on being a good mom, breastfeeding and taking my babies home.
My aunt’s situation was a completely different experience. She unexpectedly became ill on a Thursday afternoon. Prior to this she was a healthy, independent 86 year old woman. This is exactly why she refused a surgery that could leave her bed ridden for the rest of her life. We weighed the pros and the cons in regards to her having the surgery and her declining it. She decided to decline. Then began the countless hours of sitting at her bedside, praying for a miracle and not giving up hope. Unfortunately, a week later she was transferred to hospice and she died the very next day.
Yet, as I reflect on her care I am reminded of the things I teach every day. I tell my colleagues and team members to make eye contact, smile, respect a patient’s privacy, introduce yourself, be responsive, respond to concerns and complaints, apologize and thank. It all came to life in my family’s darkest moments. I remember the Hospitalist team, who very thoughtfully answered all of our questions, even if we asked it the same way several times. The physician who very carefully came down to eye level to explain the risks of my aunt NOT having the surgery. The med student who checked in regularly and said on his way home for the night “your aunt is in my prayers”. The nursing team who worked tirelessly, answered her call bell immediately, smiled and said things like “is there anything else I can do before I leave”. It was everything we needed as we watched a loved one face the final journey of their life.
When you experience patient experience on the other side of the bed you realize how important it is for us to treat others the way we would want to be treated. It’s during that time that it all makes sense. How devastated we would have been as family members if we had encountered the thoughtless and cold provider who cared more about time, volume and reimbursement, than the care of our loved one.
So, if you are a healthcare provider who has been asked or required to attend yet another customer satisfaction, patient experience or even “charm” class, please do not resist. That extra dose of empathy, respect, and compassion provides healing and caring in places medicine can never touch. If you feel as though these things are an innate part of your amazing character already, then you should still go and use the class as an opportunity to share some of your wisdom. Additionally, I don’t think we can ever stop learning about enhancing the patient experience because perceptions and experiences change every moment. While I do not think that I know it all, I didn’t realize the impact a providers tone, compassion and empathy would have on my family and myself at such a crucial time.
Finally, consider this. At some point, no matter who we are, what we do or where we come from, we will all arrive on the other side of the bed. When we do, I am sure we want providers who value the fact that the little things matter and that care and compassion should not be a compliment to medicine but rather how it is delivered every single time.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope it resonated with you in some way. Please share your thoughts.