On this blog, we often talk at a high level about creating more efficient businesses, new communication and collaboration tools, and other strategies for creating success. But what happens when real life intervenes and we find ourselves face-to-face with the kind of experience that underscores exactly why all of this is truly important—not just for the industries using these solutions, but also for the customers – or patients – on the receiving end?
Healthcare companies that make improvements in their processes and systems actually do make a real difference to the people struggling to navigate those systems.
An email I received from a friend of mine recently makes this point perfectly:
Someone gave me their name today, and I cried. Certainly, as I’ve been navigating the healthcare system from the patient’s perspective over the past few weeks there have been many occasions that have brought me to tears – of anger, frustration, and fear. But this person simply offered up their name as a commitment to help me through the next phase in looking for a diagnosis and treatment plan and it had been so long since I’d had that small level of concern or understanding from within the healthcare system that I lost it. Somewhere over the past 30+ years that I’ve been involved in healthcare, the connection to the patient, as a living, breathing, hurting individual, has disappeared.
It’s very easy to see the need for better technology within the healthcare system. Sitting in the Emergency waiting room for the space of 30 minutes, four different times patients were called who had already been taken to other areas of the hospital. As we were taken back to a room the confusion continued as we found patients still in the exam room that was to be assigned to us and were led in a meandering path around the ED to look in doorways for a room that might be available. Clearly, the person in charge of updating the spreadsheet (yes, I said a spreadsheet) that tracked who was in what room and why, which was then clearly displayed for all to see on large monitors on the wall, was falling behind. After seeing the doctor and agreeing to an admission, we waited yet again for over two hours while various ED team members poked their heads in to ask what we were waiting on. To add to the fun, the MRI (that the ER doc had recommended at 3 pm, the hospitalist had ordered at 6 pm, but that the nurse didn’t hand-write the radiology request for until 10 pm) didn’t happen until late the next day, slowing down any chance of making the admission productive and helpful. Throughout the entire four days, there were numerous examples of waste, inefficiency, and just general disorganization. It was highly evident that many of the hospital systems were not integrated, there was still a heavy reliance on paper, and communication paths just simply did not exist other than phone calls.
Moving outside the walls of the hospital to the physician offices, where once upon a time the office staff was taught that they were there to provide service to the patient — rather than the current view, which is that patients are a necessary pain that must be tolerated to get a paycheck — took us much further down the slippery slope of medical chaos. From being told that I should “not be bothering the receptionist with questions as it distracts her from her job” to waiting for several days just for simple tests to get scheduled, I quickly learned that the only advocate for the patient in my life was me. No one was concerned that his symptoms were clearly progressing and we needed help determining the next steps for his care. No one else felt the urgency or even pretended to care about getting things accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. There was no assistance in getting records moved from one location to another or sharing information among the physicians involved, even when they were in the same practice. Time after time I had to drive to each facility where he had been treated, pick up films, lab results, etc. and hand-carry them to the next location, along with our typed outline of what had progressed to date. (This has convinced me to start up a Health Vault account to make it easier to post records and find them more easily.) By comparison, think of how easily you can move money from one account to another, even at different financial institutions! Is patient care so much less important than our finances that we as users of the healthcare system have allowed this lack of integration and communication to exist?
Each step of the way, as I have advocated and pushed and become that nagging pain that won’t go away until someone responds, has been difficult. I have no idea how a seriously ill patient without a personal support system or lacking a strong knowledge of the healthcare system survives, as I am barely managing myself. We talk often in healthcare organizations about being “patient centric,” yet I think all too often we forget that the patient has a name besides “patient.” The patient has a family and a job and a place in our community. The patient goes on suffering, even when the healthcare community clocks out and goes home for the day. That each decision that doesn’t move us closer to truly connecting people to people in the healthcare ecosystem, pushes us farther away from remembering the compassion and commitment that brought, at least some of us, into healthcare rather than any other business vertical out there.
In a way, we’ve all become the communications solution for healthcare. I’m painfully aware of how these events could easily have happened to me. Or to a family member. Or to any of us.
Collaboration, workforce efficiency, and communication tools do actually matter. They matter to all of us, especially when we talk about the healthcare industry. Seeing it from the patient’s perspective, and the challenges they’re dealing with, just helps all of that come into better focus.
I think it’s worth asking the question: What can we do to make it so that there are no “patients” waiting at the end of the day?
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