By Kim Bassett
Hospital executives, physicians and healthcare workers — myself included — see the hospital world from a very different view than that of the patient. The healthcare world feels normal to us. We spend so much time in our healthcare world that it becomes our second home and family.
For our patients and their visitors, the healthcare environment can be very confusing, challenging and even fear-provoking. As healthcare workers, we often don’t think about the uncertainty our patients feel as they navigate the healthcare system.
Recently, I had an opportunity to accompany a family member through her healthcare experience while undergoing elective surgery. I spent 3 days in an unfamiliar hospital with her and spent the time watching the staff interact with her and her response to them. She thought this hospital and its staff was the best place on earth. She totally trusted that they were all focused on her.
Here are five things they did that made her feel safe, secure, and cared for.
- Talk each other up. Nearly every member of the staff, doctors included, talked about how wonderful everyone they work with was. “Oh you have Dr. Smith, she is just wonderful!” or “I see you have Liz as your nurse, she is exceptional, isn’t she?” This type of camaraderie shown between staff really bolsters confidence in the entire staff and will make your patient feel good about their qualifications and ability to provide the best care.
- Listen to the patient. Many times, we are in such a hurry to get to our next patient or finish a task that we fail to meet the most basic need of the patient — feeling heard. This can clearly be shown when doctors make bedside visits. The surgeon sat down and talked with the patient that first post-op morning. He was there less than 5 minutes (I timed him.) The patient thought he was there for a very long time, commenting, “Do you think he spends this kind of time with every patient?” He spent some of this time talking about how wonderful everyone was and asking if the patient had any needs that had been unmet. He left her with the impression of a much longer and more personal visit.
- Anticipate their needs. In patient care an ounce of prevention or anticipation of needs can prevent hours of work later, not to mention head off complaints. The staff told the patient she would need pain medicine. They had the typical whiteboard in the room with staff names, phone numbers, etc. written on it. The staff would write the time on the board when the patient could next have pain medicine. They told the patient repeatedly that she was in charge of determining when it would be needed. All she had to do was call and they would happily bring it in. Talk to the patient and ask them regularly if they are in need of anything. This includes the family of the patient. Offer them basic things, an extra blanket, directions to the hospitality station where they can get coffee. These simple acts of kindness not only inspire patient goodwill, but it also send the patient the clear message that you are there for them.
- Explain the obvious, use bedside reporting more. As you and your staff do things for the patient, let them know why you are doing it. “I am going to keep the door closed so that it is quiet and you can rest.” “I’m going to check to be sure you have a fresh container of water in case you get thirsty.” “I’m writing my name up here (on the whiteboard) so that you know who is taking care of you and can feel free to call for me when needed.” When you give bedside reporting to the oncoming shift, introduce the person taking over and explain that you will be talking about the patient so the new person taking over knows where to start. This goes hand in hand with anticipating their needs. By explaining the things you do and how it benefits them, they realize that you are consistent about checking on them and seeing to their needs.
- Keep it clean. Cleanliness is so very important in the hospital. The staff can send subtle signals to patients throughout each interaction with the patient. For example, making a show of using sanitation gel, rubbing it together on their hands as they greet the patient, sends the very clear message of overall cleanliness. Housekeeping staff should introduce themselves, “I’m here to keep your room clean.” Before they leave, they should ask the patient if they missed anything or if there is anything else they would like cleaned.
You may have noticed none of the items on the list are medical things. Patients and families, unless they have medical training, are going to assume that you are going to do those things correctly. Everyone expects “quality care.” You can’t brag about quality care—how would you feel if the pilot of your airplane bragged that he landed the plane 95% of the time!
Patients want to feel someone is looking out for them. They need to be the center of our attention—all of us, all of the time. When we are short with them or overlook the dirty sheets that have been on the bed, patients start looking more closely at everything, looking for fault. Think about a recent meal at your local diner. You sit down, the server brings your water and menus. As you are looking at your menu, you notice that your water glass has lipstick residue on the rim. You then immediately look at your utensils to see if they are clean and then the table top. Even though they brought you a new glass of water, you will be on edge for the entire meal, looking at your food more closely than you would have if they’d just paid attention and given you a clean water glass.
It is the same with our patients. You fail to communicate something simple or make a patient feel like they are intruding on your day, and they start to feel as if other things might be overlooked as well. They start looking for signs and start doubting the care they are receiving. You can be providing the most amazing, quality care and if a patient feels like they are a bother, you don’t get credit for the great work you are doing. The patient or family complains and you are left feeling, “what more could I have done?” You can prevent this feeling by remembering the above five items. Your patient will leave with a good feeling about the treatment they received. There is much to be gained for us to see what it is like in the shoes of the patient and/or his or her family.