A few months ago, before just about everything was shut down due to COVID-19, a good friend of mine was suffering with some horrible, and all too familiar pain. He knew he had a kidney stone and went to the nearby emergency department to get some relief.
After a few hours and several imaging tests, the news wasn’t good. The stones were too big to pass and he needed surgery to have them removed. The physician went ahead and admitted him, hoping the surgery could be done in the morning.
Although it was located in the middle of nowhere, this hospital had recently been acquired by a larger health system, one with a wonderful reputation in the community, not only for clinical excellence, but for exceptional patient care. I felt relieved that he was in good hands.
We spoke about a week and a half later. As it turned out, he didn’t have the surgery at that hospital. He had been there for a few days, waiting, but was unexpectedly released. His daughter then brought him to the hospital near her.
“What on earth happened?” I asked him.
“I have no idea,” he answered. “The whole time I was there, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. There didn’t appear to be any coordination or communication between any of the staff, like nobody was running the ship, and plenty of conflicting information.”
He continued. “They wouldn’t let me eat anything because I was waiting for an OR, which was understandable, but this went on for two days. I kept asking when I’d be going in to have these things removed, and no one had an answer. Then, finally, they took me down to surgery and the doctor came in and said I was getting a stent.”
“A stent?” I asked. “Why not remove the stones?”
“That’s exactly what I asked,” he answered. “Something about them not having the equipment to be able to do it, but they were telling me this while I was lying on a gurney right outside the OR. The whole time I was on the unit, I kept hearing them talk about removal. No one said anything about a stent”
“Afterwards,” he continued, “they gave me a prescription for some pain pills and told me to make an appointment for a follow up visit in two weeks. That was it. I felt like I was getting the ‘bum’s rush’ out of there. My daughter was furious and took me directly to the hospital near her and that’s when everything changed.”
“What happened there?” I asked. I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say.
“The physician there was amazing. He was confident without being arrogant and at some point he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘It’s okay. Everything is going to be fine.’ That felt great. Very reassuring. It was like night and day between those two places.”
He went on to tell me that it felt like everything was running smoothly; everyone knew the plan of care, and he never felt like he was being a bother when he asked for help. He even noticed that behind everyone’s ID badge, there was a plastic card listing ‘Always Behaviors’, similar to AIDET, something he’d heard me talk about a lot.
As happy as I was for him that he got the care he needed and was just fine, I was a little disappointed. I was really hoping for something new, some magic nugget of information that would turn the patient experience movement on its ear. Something we never knew, never tried. Something revolutionary that would solve it all.
Alas, it all came down to the same old things: listen well, communicate clearly, convey kindness. All those things we’ve been talking about and training on for years. No new shiny bit of technology, nothing terribly complicated.
It really can be that simple.