By Lilian Myers
A Little Perspective
The last time I wrote about healthcare it was on technologies and innovations that make healthcare go. Even though I actually built software to try and address it, I’ll admit that until recently I had a pretty esoteric point of view on the healthcare experience for patients in the actual process of something like a surgery.
That term – patient – is that a noun or a verb? I have no idea of the origins and won’t be looking it up. But I’ll theorize that it’s a reconstituted verb. Why? Because I’ve had the opportunity to look at healthcare in spots all over the globe and have found a common denominator. Virtually every human who seeks care is somehow waiting. And the <insert country, health system, facility, or provider name here> care providers ask that we wait. That we be Patient.
Yes, I was one of the endless stream of dreamers that tried to empower human beings with tools and technologies so they could become consumers of healthcare. As entrepreneurs do, I thought I could help change the world. But it’s now six years later. Is it any more possible to understand and determine your own healthcare decisions today than it was then?
Short answer: Not really.
This year I threw my hands up on healthcare as a vocation, opting instead to recite the Serenity Prayer every time I was tempted back. I’d been on the road studying healthcare in many different countries which only left me tired and disheartened. My conclusion: the US hasn’t cornered the market on screwed up delivery systems. It’s broken all over the place. If services aren’t wrecked, the financial support mechanisms definitely are. Healthcare’s economic burden is dire everywhere.
Nordstrom Meets Hyatt Regency?
So now let me try and draw a little contrast based on some recent personal experience. My husband – all 6’4”, 250 lbs of him – just a few weeks ago came over the finish line on a long, grueling meltdown of his knees. I routinely thanked higher powers that his condition wasn’t life threatening, merely agonizing in its slow debilitation of a formerly quick-moving, outdoorsy kind of guy.
I’ll spare the saga that lead to a double knee replacement, but as I sat in a room on the Med-Surg unit of a mid-sized hospital that’s part of a large, large, non-profit health system I was in awe of the transformation in this facility and its service since my last experience here 10 years ago. It made me wonder if I might have been wrong. Maybe the path is being laid by institutions like this. One at a time.
Might also be interesting to know that an executive of this system owns the house next door to mine. We don’t know one another well, but in talking with his wife on the lawn a in the week leading up to my husband’s surgery I joked that we were in for a few days’ vacation at one of their resort properties – ha, ha, ha. And I meant it when I used a slightly facetious tone. I’d been in this hospital before.
We arrived at the appointed 5:15 AM time. Ugh. My husband anxious. Me, more worried about what happens afterward. He’s not known for his pain tolerance nor I for being a nurse-maid. He has reminded me more than once that I’m unqualified for either role. I hadn’t yet started asking friends for referrals to divorce arbitrators, but did have it in the back of my mind just in case.
As we entered the lobby of this hospital I was struck by the beautiful, open space. Twenty-five foot ceilings with uninterrupted views onto the massive covered portico at the front and a peaceful Zen garden at the rear gave the sense of being outdoors even in the dark early morning hours. A sweeping reception desk was set back far enough for uncrowded traffic flow across the lobby’s expanse. Intimate seating clusters dotted the area and a concert grand player piano tinkled familiar, upbeat classics. Off to the left, a glass office faced with a neat row of roomy chairs was clearly identified as the admissions desk. Broad, light filled corridors wrapped around the Zen Garden for access to the main elevators and the inner reaches of the hospital.
This was something! Where was I? Some cross between Nordstrom and a Hyatt Regency? The old-ish, dark, labyrinth of a hospital with lots of vinyl flooring and signs and arrows everywhere had been transformed. The valet parking sign out front and the arrow to Concierge Services had me thinking my bleary-eyed driving got us to the wrong destination.
Efficient and Effective with Something for Everyone
But no. Check in was fast, friendly, and paperless. Once done, we were directed to the mezzanine level just over the lobby. In spite of the lovely staircase, our reason for being here – knees replacements – forced us to the elevator where, as with luxury hotels, services were tasteful signs advertised services. I did a double take when I understood I was seeing an ad for spa services! Okay so maybe instead of a maddening five hours of boredom while my husband was in surgery and recovery this place might hold some interesting opportunities! In that moment it struck me that this was starting to look more and more like a medical tourist destination than my local hospital. I like it!
On the mezzanine level we were greeted by another receptionist and directed to comfortable seating. A TV room and snack area on one side, a set of large monitors with surgical timeline displays on the walls, and a serene aquarium made it hard to choose the best hangout spot for what I expected might be endless waiting. This was about being, well, patient and Patient, right? Wrong. We were soon called back into the prep area and descended upon by a team of nurses, techs, nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologists, and then the surgeon himself.
The process was efficient and coordinated. The staff friendly, genuine, and visibly competent. Without sacrificing warmth and reassurance, there was a precision in the hand-offs, questions asked, questions answered, and expectation setting done throughout the process of tapping veins, taking blood, repeating name and date-of-birth over and over and over.
By 7:30 AM my husband was rolled away to surgery and I was escorted to surgical waiting. From there my quest to fill the next five hours began by looking for that spa! Given everything else I’d seen the quiet spa tucked away in the rear of the upscale gift shop shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was. I learned that the services originated a few years ago in the cancer center with therapies for breast cancer patients. Over time the services evolved as did the clientele. Now hospital employees were big business.
Happy to Avail Myself
It turned out I was as big a surprise to the spa manager as the spa was to me. I was apparently the first known client to originate from the surgical waiting area. Happy to be the first at anything I signed up to spend the next two relaxing hours in the capable hands of a masseuse and an esthetician for less than the price I’d pay at a comparable commercial day spa.
Rejuvenated, I made food my next mission. Surprise again! This compared to the healthy, multi-station corporate cafeteria of my former employer. Choices everywhere. High calorie options at the back, salads and lighter options nearer the entry. Beautiful displays, homemade treats, gleaming surfaces and smiling staff. It was delicious and delightful. Nothing like my hospital cafeteria experiences of the past.
A Surgeon Who Actually Speaks!
With time to spare I meandered back in the direction of surgery waiting. There on the monitor a timeline illustrated status for each surgery in process. The long green bar representing my husband’s double knee replacement was significantly shorter than when I’d headed off for my own repairs. Within 20 minutes of firing up my laptop and jumping online courtesy of the hospital’s guest wireless access, doors opened and a weary-looking orthopedic surgeon in black surgical scrubs surveyed the area, locked eyes with mine, smiled, and accelerated in my direction.
“He did great,” he said as he took a seat next to me. After a few questions and a joke or two about how much taller my husband would be, the doc explained what would happen over the next few days of hospitalization and the rehab that would follow. I couldn’t remember the last time a physician sat next to me and talked for 10 minutes in a care context. Let alone one who’d just finished a tough procedure and had three more to do before his day was done.
All About Recovery
An hour later my husband was wheeled out of the surgical suite on a gurney alert and aware. Within moments we arrived on the medical/surgical floor and were deposited in a private room with a view from large windows and updated décor. Impressive. A glass write-on board on the wall identified his nurse, his physical therapist, the charge nurse, his phone number, and their phone numbers, along with a “Goal for the Day” heading. Today’s: Manage Pain, and Walk. Walk? Really? Well okay, then.
His nurse arrived within 10 minutes to orient him and set expectations for medications, foods, physical therapy frequency, and of course to ask his name and date of birth just to be sure this was her guy.
From Luck of the Draw to Consumer Choice
Here’s the most interesting thing of all. We did not have a choice about the doctor or the hospital. Those were dictated by my husband’s insurance coverage. Had we opened a phone book or made a decision from Angie’s List or HealthGrades we might not have ended up in this facility or in the care of this physician. I’ll count us as lucky.
Patient? Well that hadn’t been a requirement for the eight hours we’d been guests in this resort hospital. While my husband may not have enjoyed the experience, he was definitely grateful for it. I on the other hand, loved it. He was fixed and I was stress-free. No one asked me to be patient. My husband had been treated as something more than a patient and we were both back on the road to the life his debilitation had put on hold.
If only the rest of the healthcare process went like this! Maybe they’d find a noun for those who seek care.
I vote for “Customer”.
Given that experience, I’ll chose to be a customer at that hospital again. When I ultimately enroll through the government Insurance Exchange I’ll be looking for benefits that assure I can again be a customer here.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
PS Eight weeks later, my husband and I are heading to the Utah mountains to do some hiking and he is being featured on the cover of the hospital system’s quarterly magazine – his recovery just that miraculous!