What a hospital can do to be more comfortable for patients

Although filled to the brim with patients, hospitals were created to support doctors, not us patients. Historically, their organizational structure focused on doctors’ needs and doctors’ requirements. The concept of centering hospital care on patient needs and requirements is a relatively recent development.

How can a hospital switch from being provider-centered to patient-centered? Shifting such a complicated and cumbersome behemoth a full 180 degrees is a huge undertaking.

I believe it can be done. I’ve put much thought into this and feel my 5 steps are do-able and (relatively) easy to implement without interfering with the changes already in evidence organizationally and technologically.

My 5 steps were born of an epiphany. Without us patients there would be no hospitals. Without us patients, there’d be no place for:

  • practical teaching
  • developing best practices
  • solving health puzzles patients often present.

Patients are hospitals’ raison d’être. Here’s how you can make us feel more like the VIPs we are.

1. Be quiet. Quiet. Shhhh. We need a library environment. I don’t want to hear staff shrieking to one another down halls and across nursing stations. You have other options. You can get up and walk over to the person you are addressing or send a text (SMS, IM etc.), a Twitter message or an email. Silence the doors, drawers, cabinets, carts. No more slamming, ramming or bashing. We VIPs have sensitive ears and nerves. I know this quiet can be done. On hospital’s office floors for example, it’s dead quiet.

2. Paint. Hospital colours are depressing. We need something comforting and peaceful, colours that create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Colour can also help us VIPs find our way in the hallway labyrinths. Mazes befuddle and confuse.

3. Change the linens. Hospital bedding is just awful. Please learn from hotels. They also grapple with high volumes of laundry and infection-control requirements. Yet, their sheets have a thread count of more than 100.

4. Turn curtains into art. The privacy curtains. Honestly! They’re utterly useless. Privacy’s a joke and the colour makes us VIPs feel we’re already dead. Instead, use them as a canvas and showcase Canadian art. Use the same industrial strength material as scrubs.

5. Let us dress with dignity. Even if you can’t do the first 4 steps right away, there’s one I hope you’ll consider changing — the hospital gown! The hospital gown is the single most important thing that demoralizes even the most understanding VIP. They’re embarrassing for all. They de-humanize, demean and really make us VIPs feel like we’re an afterthought — and a tiresome one at that.  Please change the design of the hospital gowns. Grown-ups need grown-up gowns.

Bonus: Change the floors. Changing the floors may be too expensive. But wouldn’t it be great for every foot that ever walked on a hospital floor to have a nicer surface like bamboo or cork, providing they met with infection prevention and other necessary codes.

Perhaps, compared to the issues of patient safety, medication errors and technology inequities, what I propose may seem frivolous: nice to have, rather than need to have. But ask any one of us VIPs. For us, it’s the often the common sense, meeting-human-needs components that gives meaning to patient centred.

Kathy Kastner is Founder and President of Ability for Life.

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