Patient Experience over the Holidays

I recently traveled back to my hometown of Chicago for a family wedding and made plans to extend my trip a few days to visit with old friends, eat that amazing food, and see the lights along Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. There’s nothing quite like Chicago at Christmastime and seeing my dearest friends did my heart a world of good.

As I was enjoying brunch with one of them, she reminded me that it was five years ago since she had her kidney removed and she’d been cancer-free ever since. I was so happy for her. I don’t know a lot of cancer survivors. As a child I’d lost three of my four grandparents to cancer. More recently, I lost my mom to cancer in 2010, my dad to cancer in 2011, and my sister to cancer in 2013. In 2014, this friend of nearly 20 years told me she had cancer. I remember not being able to breathe for several seconds, frightened that I would lose her, too.

A few days before Christmas, she underwent surgery intending to remove just the cancerous section, but once the surgeon was inside, he realized he needed to remove the entire kidney. It was difficult for her to receive that news, but well worth it knowing that it meant a greater chance of her being healthy for years to come. 

I really wanted to visit her in the hospital, which wasn’t easy with all the craziness of the holiday season, but it turned out that I was able to break away for a bit on Christmas Day. As I pulled into the parking lot that Thursday morning and noticed how many cars weren’t there, it struck me that the people who were there as patients must be miserable. Who wants to spend Christmas in the hospital? Even the people working would likely rather be home with their families, right?

She and I had a lovely visit. She didn’t look too bad for only being a couple of days post-op, and her spirits were good. I spent about an hour or so with her, until her mom arrived, but was struck at how quiet the hospital was. It was definitely a skeleton crew of clinical staff and not an administrator in sight. 

Why would they not have patient advocates or volunteers visiting people that day?

Of course I know why. People don’t want to work on holidays and employers don’t want to pay hourly employees time-and-a-half to come in. But wouldn’t that be a wonderful and meaningful thing to do for patients? 

Having a visitor on Christmas Day meant the world to my friend. I think I know what I need to design in my next patient experience director role. Does your hospital have a program like that?

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

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