Being sick and hospitalized in a lonely and unfamiliar place is a terrifying time for our patients. It’s an easy thing for doctors and nurses to forget as we go about our hectic days, when time goes by so quickly that we barely have time to stop and think. Whether you are practicing medicine in a large academic center or a small rural hospital, the feedback that patients give about their hospitalization is surprisingly similar.
And as the world of medicine goes about trying to improve the health care experience (often with unnecessarily complicated and expensive solutions), it’s worth remembering that the things that patients ask for are really very simple and straightforward.
Here are 5 of them:
1. Allowing a restful sleep. This is often the first complaint doctors hear when they walk into a room first thing in the morning. It may be a noisy neighbor, excessive commotion outside, a beeping machine, or unnecessary vital sign checks (on an otherwise stable patient). Let’s start first with everyone involved in health care acknowledging that nobody can possibly get better if they can’t get a decent rest.
2. Give a clear plan every day. This needs to be communicated clearly to both patients and their families. There should never be any situation where it’s already mid-afternoon, and neither the patient nor the nurse know what the plan is for the day. Multidisciplinary rounds — where the doctor goes over the daily strategy with the nurses, case managers, and even the physical therapists and pharmacists — can really help, and are taking off across the country. Other strategies, such as a whiteboard at the end of the bed, are also a good idea.
3. Let’s be clear about waiting times. This includes time waiting in the emergency room, when a doctor is likely to see you on any given day, and the timing of medical investigations. There can be few things worse than not being allowed to eat or drink anything (when you’re already feeling unwell), and then being told that the test or procedure you’re waiting for is scheduled at some unknown time of day — “could be any time between 8 and 5 p.m.!” Often, if it’s late in the afternoon and you know in advance, a small breakfast may even have been allowed. At least knowing a rough time can really help a patient to psychologically prepare and not have the feeling of being left in limbo.
4. Listen to those small requests that can make your patient’s day. In the overall setting of an acute illness, a patient asking for something like being able to take a shower or go for a walk outside may seem almost irrelevant. But remember that it may well make a patient’s day if you let them do this. Taking a shower, in particular, can make some patients feel like a million dollars afterwards! As long as it’s safe to do these things, they should be allowed and even encouraged.
5. Hospital food. The agenda items wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this. The stuff of legendary jokes, hospital food really can be, well … quite, sick. While not suggesting we have to serve up gourmet five-star restaurant style food, we certainly can put a little more thought into some healthy, delicious and inexpensive menu options in our nation’s hospitals.
And so the list goes on, also including many things that are likely to be more resource-intensive, such as hiring additional nurses, buying more efficient computer systems, and allowing time for a much more thorough discharge process to occur. These should be addressed over time as well, but leaders have to remember that with the health care experience, it’s often the little things we can do for our patients that really count.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.
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