Dirty jeans and a positive patient experience

Recently, I made a doctor’s appointment with a new physician at a different hospital system. During my last encounter with our family’s primary care doctor, his angry, unprofessional and unnerving behavior not only scared me at the time — it scared me away for good. So forced to navigate away from crazy — I found myself with this new doctor.

Upon entering the front door of the new medical center, I was greeted by a grand piano, and I thought: “Oh no, another attempt to be grand through physical amenities.” It looked a bit silly sitting in the middle of the room as if it didn’t belong, and I wondered when and if anyone ever played it. Nevertheless, I wandered past and to the reception desk.

In less than three minutes, the receptionist sent me around the corner to the spacious waiting room. Two things impressed me. First – the chairs were offset at angles, so no one had to look at anyone else directly. A winner idea if you ask me. And hallelujah — the chairs were made of fake leather — something that could be cleaned with a disinfecting wipe.

Often in doctor’s offices, I refuse to sit. Typically the fabric chairs are filthy and stained, with no way to clean or disinfect them. I mean — think of people’s jeans. Most people wait weeks, months, maybe years before they wash their jeans. I did an internet search about how often to wash your jeans. Here’s a piece of advice that corroborates my dirty jean theory:

Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, says the answer is “never.” Bergh suggests spot cleaning or putting jeans in the freezer once a month to kill off bacteria. Hmm — not sure if I’m going to freeze my jeans next to my ice cubes.

So, back to fabric chairs. We know that bacteria can live on fabric for months. Couple that with jeans that are never washed and chairs that are never cleaned. Voila — nasty chairs capable of cross-contamination. Ugh! That’s why I was elated to enter this waiting room to see cleanable chairs.

Right on the dot of 10:20 a.m., the nurse called me in. She took my blood pressure and actually told me the numbers.

Shocking — because that doesn’t always happen. Once I had a nurse who didn’t have a computer or paper to write down my blood pressure numbers, and she wrote them on her hand – which had several other people’s numbers scrawled there as well. Talk about a patient safety concern.

And then she asked me a question I’ve never been asked before. She looked at me in the face and asked, “Do you have any concerns about understanding or comprehending today’s visit?” I answered, “No. I’m quite health literate.” She replied with shock, “That is an excellent answer.”

I told her about my patient safety radio show, and we had a nice chat. But I thought that to be a very important question. How many times prior to an appointment has someone seemed concerned that you had the ability to understand what was going to take place?

When the doctor came in, he said, “I hear you’re a radio host.”

And that started an entire conversation about his concern for patient safety. He told me stories about his parents and their health, and how he was going out of his way to advocate for a patient with a particularly intricate health situation. We had a very human encounter.

He apologized for not being able to look at me while typing notes into the computer, and he did something I really appreciated. He spoke the actual words he was typing.

So instead of my sitting there while he typed away, wondering if he was typing — “this patient is a pain in the butt.” Now I knew exactly what was being written in my chart, giving me an opportunity to correct him in the event he misinterpreted something. It was a time to become part of the process — because after all — a doctor’s appointment is all about the patient.

After the exam, he set me up for an ultrasound. He walked me to the receptionist to arrange for those tests and told me he would get back to me with the results, which I could also access in the patient portal.

And with that, he handed me a written printout of the office visit summary and gave me a proper goodbye. Upon leaving his office, I told him. “You are awesome — we need more of you.”

The ultrasound technician introduced herself and said, “Oops, I’ll be right back. I used the last of the hand sanitizer on the wall with my last patient.” She re-entered, installed the new container and cleaned her hands. We were off.

Oh, how that made me smile. Upon leaving, she gave me a card with her name on it. We had a short chat about how much she liked her job — and I was gone.

In less than an hour, I walked out to the car amazed.

Now, this is what the patient experience is all about.

We don’t need a grand piano. We just need some infection prevention, common sense and basic human kindness with sincere interaction.

A good patient experience is clearly not rocket science.

I write that in hopes that health care providers will take note of the simplicity of creating a positive patient experience. And for those of us who are patients, know that we shouldn’t be shocked when we are treated with dignity and with respect for our time.

So if you have a doctor or facility that doesn’t care about germy waiting rooms, long waits, secret computer entries, rushed behavior — know that you do have choices.

Patients have power. We just need to realize that. Make changes until you find a physician and a place that honors you as a person.

And for heaven’s sake — go wash your jeans!

Patricia J. Rullo is a patient safety radio host and can be reached at Speak Up and Stay Alive.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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