Reach Out and (Virtually) Touch Someone


It’s been a month and a half and we are, for the most part, still sheltering in place and working remotely. There are those who have grown weary of the restrictions and are anxious to get outside and back to work; I’m observing fewer people wearing masks and keeping a six foot distance from others, but most experts agree it’s still too soon to open everything back up. 

I’m concerned for those who are truly struggling; whether it’s because of isolation or working in intense conditions caring for the sick. COVID-19 is taking its toll on us, emotionally and physically, and many of us are running out of coping mechanisms. 

Which is why it was such a wonderful surprise to get a message from a friend I had in junior high. She and I didn’t go to the same elementary school and we ended up in different high schools, but for two years in Emerson Junior High, she and I were inseparable. 

We’d kept in touch over the years through various social media channels and even met for lunch several years ago, but hadn’t actually spoken for quite some time. Then, out of nowhere, she sent a message asking if I wanted to do a video call and catch up.

It was wonderful. 

It was so wonderful, in fact, that it prompted me to reach out to friends I see fairly regularly (or used to, before all this started) and set up video calls with them, too. I’m calling my brothers more often than I did and am much more active on sites like Facebook to keep in touch. 

And this is significant because I’m not a person who generally craves a lot of social interaction. I love my alone time and need some peace and quiet in order to recharge. But this pandemic has made me realize that, when all is said and done, I’m not going to look back on my life wishing I’d spent less time with my family and friends. 

Our patients, their families, and our staff are no different. 

When trying to provide the very best experience, nothing beats a personal connection: someone reaching out to you, asking how you are, what they can do to help, and offering a shoulder to lean on. 

It isn’t always our clinical and technical expertise that makes an impression on people, but the way in which we interact with them that they remember. Taking a moment to reach out with genuine concern, actively listening, and giving people a non judgemental space to talk can make a world of difference. Even after 30 years.

Two Trips to the Urgent Care

This past week, I found myself in the throws of one of the worst head colds I’ve had in quite some time. I don’t get sick easily; all the years of working in hospitals has made my immune system pretty tough, so when I do get sick, it’s usually something major. I had been a little congested for a few days, but woke up one morning with an excruciating sore throat that made it nearly impossible to swallow. My primary care physician didn’t have an opening for me that day and I simply couldn’t wait to get some relief so off I went to the local urgent care clinic in town. 

I got in almost immediately and saw the nurse practitioner. She was great. Very kind, very thorough, and very sympathetic to my pain. My rapid strep test came back negative (surprisingly) as did the influenza test, so she didn’t want to prescribe antibiotics but, rather, manage my symptoms. That made sense to me. All I really wanted was some relief from the throat pain.

I picked up the prescription for viscous lidocaine, which did help the sore throat but tasted like motor oil, and stayed in bed for the next two days. 

I started to feel like I was getting better but three days later, not only was my sore throat back with a vengeance, but now my right ear felt like someone was sticking knives in it. My husband said I turned an eerie shade of white and insisted we get back to the urgent care right away. I didn’t argue.

We arrived 10 minutes prior to closing time and the receptionist told us they weren’t taking any more patients. I told her I had been there a few days ago and my symptoms had gotten worse. She apologized and said we could either come back in the morning or go to the Emergency Department tonight. The ED for a sore throat? No way.

I was contemplating how many boxes of popsicles to buy to hold me over to the morning when my husband suggested the urgent care about a half an hour away, which was open later. As much as I’m a fan of continuity of care, I knew there weren’t enough popsicles in the whole town to get me through the night so off we went.

The other urgent care center doesn’t look like much from the road, but inside it’s quite lovely. The receptionist was very nice, as was the tech who took my vitals, but the real star was the nurse practitioner. Her main concern was getting me some immediate relief, especially after she learned that I’d been suffering for nearly a week. She gave me a steroid, decadron, along with an antibiotic for the ear infection I’d developed. By the time I picked up a box of popsicles at the grocery down the street, I was feeling 100% better. 

I slept better that night than I had in several days and the pain in my throat never returned. It was amazing. That shot of decadron may have been slightly outside the usual course of treatment, but it was exactly what I needed. 

I’m not saying anything bad about the nurse practitioner at the first center; she did exactly what she should have. No antibiotics for a virus, I get it. But when it comes to relieving suffering, the second center knew just what to do.

Incidentally, I asked them how close to closing time they stop seeing patients. The tech said they don’t turn anyone away if they get there before 7pm. Even if it’s 6:59, if they need care, they get it that night. Admittedly, it can get a little tough on staff who are eager to get home after a 10-hour day, but the mission, the reason they’re there, is what keeps them going. They know they are there to help. And they did.

The Doctor-Patient Relationship

The relationship you have with your primary care physician can mean the difference between life and death.

How’s that for an opening statement?

My parents had my eldest brother, Chris, in 1959, then 14 months later had my other brother, Andrew, and 18 months later had my sister, Mary. It was just the three of them in this tight cluster until 7 years later when I came along. Those two were full of energy, into everything, and had non-stop energy. She, on the other hand, was an introverted sensitive soul.

She also had a weight problem. For as long as I could remember she was extremely self-conscious about it. My brothers were skinny, especially Chris, and poor Mary got picked on. A lot.

It didn’t help that our primary care physician was a scary looking old man who spoke in a thick German accent and used to tease her about her weight every year at her annual school physical. She dreaded those visits and even as an adult hated going to the doctor for fear that they’d say something unkind.

Those early pediatrician visits made a big impression on her. She thought every doctor was an old man who said things like, “Vell younk lady, you ah putting on some veight, again, yah? You haff to shtop eating so many cookies.” And always in front of my brothers, giving them plenty of ammunition for teasing.

She never got over it. This was a woman who, in her late 30s, refused to go to a doctor when she clearly and unmistakably had gallstones. Incredibly painful gallstones which she insisted on treating with over the counter tylenol. They either resolved on their own or she just adjusted her pain tolerance, I’m not sure which. But it infuriated my mom who was a nurse and me who worked at a hospital. We begged her to go to a doctor but she absolutely refused. She told us didn’t want to go because she was sure they’d get on her case about her weight. Exasperated, Mom and I finally gave up.

Fast forward to the fall of 2012. Mary was suffering from some insanely horrible back pain. Nothing over the counter could touch it. She’d gone to a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist, but got no relief at all. I remember her telling me that driving over railroad tracks made her see stars.

Finally, I said, “That’s it. I’m getting you an appointment to see a doctor. We have GOT to get this looked at.” A few days later, I was able to get her in to an internal medicine physician with the medical group I worked with. Although I turned my head when he asked her to take her shirt off, there was no way not to notice the giant lump she had on her breast. It was huge. Softball size huge. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

A few imaging tests later and it was confirmed. The pain in her back wasn’t a bulging disc or muscle spasms. It was stage 4 breast cancer with compression fractures in her spine. The cancer had spread from her breast, through her rib cage and into her back. There was nothing they could do. They gave her six months.

I was as supportive as I knew how to be but I had to ask why she didn’t go see a doctor as soon as she found the lump. It all came down to her fear of ridicule. She truly thought that her doctor would spend more time chastising her about her weight than addressing the lump in her breast.

Now I’m not going to blame my sister’s death on her childhood physician; at some point, we all have to grow up and do the right thing. But she was truly traumatized as little kid and those scars stayed with her well into adulthood.

Sometimes we say things and we don’t mean anything by it. We’re joking, we’re trying to inject humor in an uncomfortable situation, or we’re just not thinking about how the other person is hearing it. Whatever the reason – it matters. Doctors, believe me, we listen to what our physicians say to us. It may be a throwaway comment to you, but it’s gospel to us. Venn you vant to make a shatement about your patient’s veight, pause. Think about how that may impact their relationship to the medical field.

I loved my old PCP. There was nothing he could have advised me to do that I wouldn’t have done. And not because it was good advice; other doctors gave me the same advice, it was because I liked him. Liking him made me much more inclined to do what he asked. When he addressed issues about my weight, it was always with compassion and sensitivity

Doctors, you’re more than just the treating physician. Inspiring behavioral change doesn’t really happen without relationship. Get to know your patients. Be kind when you have to deliver some unpopular or sensitive news like needing to lose weight. The words you choose can make all the difference.

When Your Husband is the Patient

“Honey. Honey, wake up. We have to go to the hospital right now.”

My husband has had his share of health problems, but I’ll never get used to being awakened from a sound sleep to those words.

I somehow managed to get myself out of bed, brush my teeth, and throw on some clothes before braving the several feet of snow and merciless winter wind to get to the car. As he was doubled over in pain in the passenger seat, I pulled out of the driveway, into the dark and headed toward the local emergency department.

Walking in the front door toward the registration desk, I took notice of everything around us. Having worked at my share of hospitals, I was on high alert. Was the person at the desk looking up as we walked in? Was the waiting area clean? Were there signs telling us where to go and what we needed to do? I noticed everything.

It’s funny how we’re so much more vigilant when it’s a loved one as opposed to ourselves.

I got him over to the front desk and smiled when the woman told us her name and said she was going to walk us through the registration process. She was patient while he took a few extra moments to pull his wallet from his back pocket. The pain in his stomach made it hard for him to straighten up but she didn’t seem to mind.

We got back to the treatment area almost immediately and I noticed that everyone we passed on the way to his room acknowledged us in some way, whether it was a smile, a hello, or just eye contact. I started to relax. A little.

It wasn’t long before the physician came in and asked one simple open-ended question, “Hello, Mr. Kalthoff. What brings you in tonight?”

Anyone who knows my husband knows he can’t ever answer a question with a simple answer. If you ask him what time it is, you’ll learn all about the history of watchmaking.

I watched this doctor’s face as he relayed his entire medical history and that of his father’s and was truly impressed that she didn’t interrupt. She asked very focused questions to get him back on track but it never came off as rude or impatient. I could use some of that, especially when I ask what he’d like for dinner.

She got to the heart of the medical issue that brought him to the ER and in no time he was back in imaging getting a CT scan. They even let me go back with him, which I didn’t expect, and told us it would be about an hour before we’d get some results. I looked at the clock and started the countdown.

While we waited, several people came in to check on him, including a student who had anticipatory service down to an art. Without having to ask, he brought me a glass of water and a pillow for the uncomfortable chair I’d been sitting in and an extra blanket for my husband. I was impressed. He was oblivious. The pain meds had kicked in.

Which brings me to the point. Often, patients don’t notice the things family members notice. And even if they do, they’re less likely to be upset by them. I can make excuses for doctors and nurses all day if I’m the patient, but if it’s my family, that protective instinct kicks in and I’m ready for battle.

Thankfully, that night in the emergency department, there was no need for battle. Everyone was marvelous. The CT results came back sooner than expected and his condition was explained in a way we both could understand. We left feeling much better than we did when we came in and I happily filled out the survey when it came a few days later in the mail.

When we talk about patient experience, we cannot forget the people who are with them. They notice everything. They worry more. They have more questions. They listen closely to how their loved one is spoken to or spoken about. We have to remember to include them in the discussion and address their needs, as well.

From The Other Side

Recently, I had to undergo some surgery. Routine, standard stuff but it did require me to be completely knocked out for a few hours with the possibility of an overnight stay. I’d never gone through anything like this before, so I had my share of nerves the morning of the procedure.

My surgeon doesn’t practice at the hospital in which I work; she’s at the smaller hospital near my home, which was actually a good thing. People were telling me that the car ride home was going to be tough; I’d feel every bump, every sudden stop, every pot hole in the road, so it was best that the drive home was 20 minutes instead of 75.

Before we got started, I was watching everyone. The staff at this hospital didn’t know that I worked in Service Excellence and Patient Experience at the big hospital up the road. To them, I was just another person in need of care. To me, I was kind of a mystery shopper. I was keeping track of how people were introducing themselves to me, how well they explained what was going to happen, how accommodating they were to my husband who was with me, everything. They were great. I even remember that there was Beatles music playing, which helped calm me down even more. All you need is love.

I remember my surgeon coming in ahead of time to check in on me and answer any last minute questions. Same with the anesthesiologist; he came by to make sure I was okay before we went into the OR.

The next thing I knew, it was several hours later. The surgery lasted about an hour longer than expected and it took me a while to wake up. The post-op nurse took out the IV in my left hand and told me it was time to get dressed (I don’t actually remember that part, but I do remember my husband trying to help me get my shoes on). What I do remember is feeling very dizzy and light-headed and needing to lie back down.

It was some time later and I was still feeling like the room was spinning. The nurse that was caring for me told my husband that they were filling up in post-op so I needed to start getting ready to go home. I don’t know what he said, but the next thing I knew, there was a new nurse in the room who put in a new IV into my other hand. I heard something about “getting her some fluids” and a short time later, I was feeling a whole lot better. Still sleepy and kind of out of it, but not dizzy anymore.

With that, I was in a wheelchair, then my car, then home. A few days later when I wasn’t sleeping 18+ hours each day, I started to remember more and more details about that day. I remember everyone being really nice and helpful, but my husband will tell you about the nurse who wasn’t picking up on my physical cues and seemed more focused on clearing the bed than making sure I was well enough to go home. He felt a lot better when the new nurse showed up and took action, but the moments leading up to that are the parts of the story he remembers more than any of the other really good things that happened that day.

Patient Experience is a team sport; all it takes is one misstep for the lasting impression to be less than excellent. And it affects more than just the patient, especially when the patient is unconscious for a period of time. Making sure that family members are well-informed and feel comfortable advocating for their loved one is just as important as direct patient care.

When asked, he and I tell a slightly different story about how things went that day, but what our stories have in common is that the staff was kind, responsive, and showed genuine concern for me. And that’s a great patient story.  

When You’re the Patient

Whether it’s organ transplant, physician relations, or patient experience, I’ve spent my entire career working in and around hospitals. It’s been pretty normal for me to go to a hospital five days a week, for eight or nine hours a day. I know there are people who are terrified of hospitals, who believe that’s where people go to die, but I’ve never really had a fear of them.

I’ve observed a few surgeries, been to hundreds of medical centers, visited thousands of physician offices, served on dozens of hospital committees, and worked in the operational and administrative sides of healthcare. I’ve also been the person who goes with the friend or family member when they have an appointment to ask the right questions, write things down, offer support and comfort, all of that. It’s old hat to me. Not a problem, of course I’ll go with you.

None of that prepared me for what it feels like to be the patient.

My routine mammogram turned into a breast MRI, which led to an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy. Given my prolific and always fatal family history of cancer (both grandmothers, a grandfather, my mom, my dad, and my sister) I was petrified. I’d been kind of joking about it for years; it’s coming for me, it’s only a matter of time; but there was nothing funny about going through all these tests just waiting to hear how far along it had gotten or what stage it was in or how long I had…

I had only been living in this area for about a year and hadn’t yet gotten to know all the players at the hospital where I was having all these tests. As part of the patient experience department, I only knew them from their patient satisfaction scores. Now I was going there for tests and I had no idea what to expect.

One question kept coming up in my head at every encounter: do they have any idea how terrified I am?

Every scheduling phone call, every check-in at the desk, every assistant who walked me to an exam room, every tech who performed a test, every physician who offered an inconclusive result. Do they have any idea how terrified I am? Do they know my family history? Do they know that I’m worried about my daughter, too?  Do they know that in my family there is no such thing as a cancer survivor? Do they know how scared I am?

I think a few of them did. They were kind, patient, gentle. But to others, I think I was just another procedure to do. It made me wonder if I’m looking at the people who come in and out of my workplace every day with that same sense of routine. It’s a hospital, it’s my work, it’s no big deal. After this experience, I know that’s not how everyone sees it.

Hospitals are scary for some. We can’t possibly know all the history our visitors bring with them. What we have to know is how to be kind, patient, gentle. Every patient. Every time.

Are We Treating the Disease or the Person?

A few years ago, my family got the worst news we could imagine; mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although true to her stoic Norwegian roots, she was appropriately nervous about what lay ahead. Her mom had died from breast cancer just a few years before and she’d seen all that she had gone through. But my mom was determined to win.

She found an oncologist that she really liked, something I knew was important. After nearly 50 years as a Registered Nurse, mom had a great deal of respect for physicians. She didn’t like all of them, but she knew how much training they’d had, how much knowledge they had to keep at the top of their minds, how much pressure they were under all the time. She admired them. And she’d never, ever question them. So when she found this doctor and hit it off with her immediately, I was happy. She had a lot of respect for her and I know it made a difference in her mindset when battling this disease.

Mom did well. She fought for about a year, after which she looked to be free and clear. We all breathed sigh of relief and went on with life.

A year later at one of her follow up visits, we got sucker-punched. The cancer had returned and had metastasized to her liver. This time, her oncologist had a different treatment plan, something much more aggressive. Mom was totally on board. She liked this physician, trusted her, and would have done whatever she said.

In just a few short months we saw a dramatic difference. Mom was weak, her skin was yellow, she couldn’t eat. She wasn’t the same and she looked like she was getting worse every week. I was working at another hospital as the Physician Relations Manager and had gotten to know a couple of the oncologists there. I asked mom if she’d consider going to one of them for a second opinion on her treatment options.

“No. Absolutely not. I like this doctor. I trust her. I’m not going to anyone else.”

I’d been going to mom’s appointments with her and my dad and was the note-taker. I wrote down everything that was said but rarely spoke, myself. That started to change. I told the physician that mom was doing worse; she had a hard time with stairs, was almost too weak to stand, and couldn’t entertain the idea of food. “But her tumors are shrinking,” was her reply.

The next day, mom took a fall at home. Dad called an ambulance and I met them in the Emergency Department. While they were moving her up to an inpatient room, I pulled my dad aside and told him I wanted to involve another physician in mom’s case. He looked stunned. “Why would you do that?”

“Dad,” I said, “I know she says the tumors are shrinking, but that’s all she’s looking at. She’s not looking at mom. Have you ever seen her this sick? I want the tumors to shrink, too, but not if we kill her in the process.”

“Will she be offended if we tell her we want to see a different doctor?” He was worried about hurting this physician’s feelings. He had seen a genuine friendship grow between his wife and her oncologist and was worried she’d be upset if we sought out another opinion. I tried to reassure him that doctors experience this kind of thing all the time and don’t take it personally. I wasn’t as interested in being factual as I was getting another set of eyes on her. Not her tumors, not her white blood count, her.

He took a minute to think about it. He knew mom wouldn’t be happy seeing a different doctor, but agreed that maybe there was another treatment out there that wouldn’t be so hard on her.

I never got the chance to make that call. When I went to work the next morning, I looked up the phone numbers of two of my favorite oncologists but before I could dial, I got a call. Come to the hospital now. Mom took a turn last night. She was gone two days later.

When I reflect on it now, I keep coming back to the same thing: treat the person, not just the disease. I have no doubt that my mom’s oncologist was a competent physician, or that she wanted my mom to recover, or that she did the very best she knew to do. But it has to be more than disease management. We have to notice how these treatments are affecting patients, their lives, their well-being, even their families.

If you’re a physician, ask yourself: do you treat illness or do you treat people?

The Pity Look

When I lived in the midwest, I belonged to a church that had some really wonderful people in it. People who genuinely cared about each other and would step up and help whenever someone was in need. When someone’s spouse was hospitalized, people delivered meals. If someone needed childcare, there was a list of vetted teenagers up for the job. When you needed someone to talk to, there were people who didn’t give advice, just a good listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. It was really a nice thing to belong to.

There were a few people there, however, who had the very best of intentions but didn’t really know what was helpful and what was actually making it worse. I remember when my mom was dying, people would come up to me and give me a look that I’m sure they thought was one of compassion and caring – forehead scrunched, eyes a little squinted, mouth turned down – but to me, it was a pity look. It said, “Oh dear, how awful. I’m so glad I’m not going through that.” Nothing about that look says ‘compassion’ to me. Only pity.

And it really pulled the rug out from under me. I was trying hard to stay strong and accept that this was happening but as soon as I got that look, I felt like it was really something awful. Make no mistake, losing my mom was awful, but it seemed the natural order of things that I would likely outlive her, so I was trying to not treat it like it was the worst possible thing in the world to have happen. Getting that look made me feel like it was and it robbed me of my strength.  

I think, in hospitals, we give patients that look a lot. And they recognize it. When we look right through the person and only see the illness, they know. When we are so concerned with making it seem like we really care but we don’t, when we try to convince people that are concerned about them but we’re not, we give a pity look. A look we are consciously creating in order to look convincing. When we’re more focused on ourselves and how we’re coming across, they know.

I’ve spent nearly my entire adult career listening to other people’s troubles and I’ve learned that when I’m in my own head, trying to give the other person the impression that I’m really compassionate, I’m not present. I’m not doing them a service at all. When I finally stopped trying to manufacture a look that conveyed compassion and actually started feeling compassion, the look took care of itself. And people responded better to me.

I’m sure it was Brene Brown who said, “Compassion isn’t feeling sorry for someone. It’s honoring that person and what they’re going through.” So true.

When we look at someone with pity, we send a message that we are so grateful we’re not going through what they’re going through. We send a message that what they’re dealing with is awful, and when they’re trying hard to rise above and push through, a look of pity can knock them back a few steps.

If you’re not sure what to do with your face, try mirroring the other person. Better yet, don’t focus on your face. Focus on being present for them. Listen. Reflect. Say what you see. Please don’t make the ‘pity’ face.

Care for Others by Caring for Yourself

Years ago when I was working in organ donation and transplant, I fell apart one night on my way to a case. I was leading the Family Support Services department and part of my job was to approach family members in the hospital after they’d gotten the news that their loved one had died and ask them if they’d be willing to donate organs for patients on the transplant waiting list.

As difficult as this kind of work can be, it was incredible to see the good that came of such a selfless decision. Upon receiving the worst news imaginable, families were able to look outside their situation and think of helping others. Where they once were lost in grief, they now had hope knowing that their loved one would save others.

It had been a particularly busy month and I had been on several cases involving children. I was at home relaxing that evening when my pager went off, telling me I needed to head to a level one trauma center about 20 miles away. There was a four-year-old who was likely going to be pronounced brain dead that evening and I needed to be there to talk with the family.

I got in my car and started driving. Just before I got on the highway, I started to shake. First my hands, then my legs, then my whole body. I could feel my heart start pounding and I was getting short of breath. I pulled over, looked around and didn’t know where I was. I’d been on that road hundreds of times but nothing looked familiar. I felt completely lost, in a panic, not able to catch my breath.

I called the referral center, the ones who had dispatched me to this case, and when I heard the voice of my favorite coordinator on the other end of the line, I burst into tears. All I could say was, “No more kids, no more kids.” He could barely understand me through the tears and gasps of breath but after a while he was able to calm me down.

They contacted the next person in the call schedule to go out and handle this case and had a nurse on staff meet me at a local diner to talk to me about what had just happened. After several hours, many cups of decaf coffee and some ice cream, I realized I’d had a panic attack. The busy schedule, the intensity of the work, and the pressure of managing the department had caught up with me. I’d never had anything like that happen to me before and, thankfully, I learned how to never let it happen again.

  1. Find time for yourself. There will always be pressure, deadlines, and stressors. Taking as little as five minutes out of the day to be quiet and still can do wonders for your mental health. Five minutes. Quiet. Breathe. Don’t think about anything but your breath coming in and going out.
  2. Reach out. We’re not here to go it alone and do everything ourselves. Ask people for help. There’s no shame in admitting we can’t do it all. If that’s your company culture, you’re in the wrong company.
  3. Have a confidant. Sometimes, just talking to someone you trust about what’s going on can relieve a whole bunch of built up steam. Saying it out loud takes away its power. Having a trusted friend who listens and supports you doesn’t change the situation, but can make it easier to face.
  4. Lay off the booze. Instead of flopping down on the couch after work and pouring yourself a drink or three, try a brisk walk around the block. As difficult as it is to convince me to start moving, I’m always glad once I do. It’s one thing to intellectually know the benefits of exercise, it’s quite another to experience them.
  5. Use your vacation days. They’re good for you. Go away for a while. Don’t check your work email. Unplug from work and focus on you.
  6. Re-evaluate your purpose. Maybe part of the reason you’re feeling stressed is because this isn’t the right job for you. There are so many people out there killing themselves for a job they don’t even like. If this really isn’t your thing, your body and mind might be trying to tell you so.

As much as I truly loved my work there, I left a few months later. I knew I had done some wonderful work and helped a lot of people, but felt it was time to move on. And it was okay.

There have been times since then where I’ve felt stressed, overworked and under a lot of pressure, but these 6 simple steps have staved off another panic attack.

What do you do to stay calm when things get to be too much?

Privacy Issues

A couple of weeks ago, I had to take my husband in for an outpatient surgical procedure at the main campus of our local hospital. Everywhere I looked, there were posted signs about treating patients with courtesy, respect, and caring. The hospital’s mission statement was on every computer screen and the staff were among some of the friendliest I’d ever encountered.

The whole time he was in surgery, I felt very comfortable that they were taking excellent care of him.

While he was coming out of anesthesia in post-op, I went back there to check on him and noticed the computer on wheels next to him had his chart up on the screen. Before I had a chance to really study it (which, by the way, I shouldn’t be able to), they wheeled another patient in and pulled the curtain between them for privacy. In doing so, however, the computer with his chart on the screen ended up on the other side of the curtain.

I asked the nurse about it. “That computer has my husband’s medical record up on the screen and it’s with that other patient.”

She didn’t flinch. “Well, that patient isn’t even awake yet so it’s not an issue.”

She didn’t move the computer, she didn’t close his record, she didn’t do anything except tell me I didn’t need to worry about it. And at that moment, I was so focused on helping my husband get oriented, I didn’t challenge her or insist she take some action. But it’s been nagging at me…

Years ago, when I first started conducting patient experience training, I emphasized that delivering an exceptional experience is so much more than just ‘being nice’. Among the many components is building trust. This nurse chipped away at trust by leaving my husband’s chart up on the screen and did away with it entirely by not addressing my concern. All the posted signs about courtesy and caring meant nothing to me at that point.

Patient experience is everything a patient experiences. Our initial greeting, our explanations of procedures, our signage, our website, our parking, our respect for privacy, the way we handle concerns and complaints, all of it and so much more shapes the way our patients see us. It all influences whether they’ll come back to us or choose our competitor down the street.

As for my husband and I, I’m not sure where we’ll go next time. I’m afraid it’ll take a lot more than friendliness for this hospital to win back my trust.