Do posters in the hospital really help patients?

The Disease Management Care Blog received this posting from an experienced nurse with a background in clinical and administrative medicine.

We’ve all seen them. Those vacuous workplace posters exhorting teamwork, creativity and other forms of inspiration and accomplishment. A version has begun to creep into our nation’s health care facilities. reminding everyone of the need for privacy, how infections can be spread and the importance of patient service. And if my experience is any indication, they can also amply demonstrate to patients just how badly broken the health care system can be.

During a recent visit to a local medical center, I noticed the elevator posters of the really cute child saying “shhh” with a finger over her mouth along with a tag line about patient privacy. As I was waiting for my elevator, I could hear a overhear a resident dictating a surgical summary about a named patient’s a bowel resection, low blood pressure, blood loss and signs of malignancy. Good thing the patient is not my neighbor.

And how about the signs telling patients to remind providers to wash their hands before touching them to help stop the spread of infection? During another visit, my mother’s physician seemed was surprised when I pointed out the poster and asked him to wash his.

My primary care physician has a poster that tells me to ask my doctor 3 things before I leave: what is my major problem; what do I need to do to manage it; and how are they going to help me manage it. After my physician’s office staff grudgingly gave me a “sick appointment” for my pleurisy, I had x-rays and a cursory examination. I asked the doctor the 3 questions the poster told me to. He told me we would discuss that the next time I see him. While I wait for the x-rays results, there is no follow-up scheduled at this time and no treatment has been prescribed.

While these and other posters are intended to educate consumers and remind providers, I’m running into doctors who are ignoring them. Paradoxically, these posters are reminding patients of lax privacy, the risk of avoidable infections and lousy customer service.

Here’s a suggestion for you well meaning hospital administrators: until you really fix these problems, don’t inflame things with posters. Put up pictures of what you’re apparently really all about: cash.

Jaan Sidorov is an internal medicine physician who blogs at the Disease Management Care Blog.

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  • Jeanne Male


    One cannot spend much time in a healthcare setting without seeing both examples that you provided. The posters are seemingly vacuous but a few carefully selected posters can provide an important service. Ergo, your ability to point to a poster served as a both a prompt and authority for you to ask the HCP to wash his hands. The incident reinforced the expectation thereby increasing the odds that he will wash to avoid future embarrassment.

    The posters are most effective when rolled-out as a part of a patient education or patient bill of rights initiative asking patients to demand that HCPs to wash. Most patients won’t but the poster gives them permission to ask.

  • paul

    my favorite poster at our hospital is “patient satisfaction is our #1 priority!!”

    …remind me to go somewhere where quality care is the #1 priority in the event that i need health care.

  • airedalelover

    Even worse is to be admitted to a unit that proudly boasts of
    “Being Most Improved in patient Satisfaction” One wonders, ok, I wondered, how bad they must have been before the award as this patient wouldn’t rate them high at all on Patient Satisfaction as they missed a serious post surgical complication.

  • Taylor MD

    I assume these are the work of over enthusiastic administrators and PR staff that do not really know how these messages will affect the doctors.If they consult the doctors and just put in a few posters with well constructed message, that would be great. But, what ends up happening is that you get random distraction and noise instead of the right message.

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