Lessons from a Health Care Journey

My brother entered hospice today. This isn’t about the measure of a life. It isn’t even about the treatment he received in the last five weeks of that life. This is from the perspective of those who cared deeply for him through the decades. There were small acts of kindness that made a difference. Then there’s the rest.

For those of us working in health care, there are lessons to be learned.


Lesson #1: Every Moment Counts

My brother spent the last month 950-bed monolith, a Magnet-certified, flagship hospital in the Midwest. The moments families and friends get to spend with those in a health crisis is a scarce resource. Minutes separated from loved one matter. Remember that when you wheel a patient to Radiology and you know that there’s a 45-minute wait. Don’t make all that talk about putting patients first be just talk.


Lesson #2: First Impressions Matter

Like many urban facilities, this one had more than it shares of issues. Top of the list was parking, Depending on where you could find space, street lots were either a pilgrimage or an endurance test. Without much rhyme or reason, lots were assigned to employees, physicians, and the general public. When all you want to do is see a loved one, nothing is worse than finding a half-empty lot with badge-only access.

Parking garages were even worse. They were designed for when cars, like waistlines, were smaller.  Eight and nine-story edifices held the promise of an elevator that had seen better days. Poor signage made it all the more likely that you’d never remember where you parked. Then, of course, there were the signs that said if anything was visible in the car it wouldn’t be there when you returned.

There’s a simple rule: Impressions start long before customers enter the door. With simple rules, comes equally simple answers: valet parking. If there is a fee, include language like, “a portion of today’s fee goes to ______.”


Lesson #3: Second Impressions Matter, too

Make eye contact. Smile. Offer to help. Odds are, they won’t take you up on the offer. What they will remember is that employees made an effort. Whether you're leading a department or a division, this one doesn’t cost you a dime.


Lesson #4: Watch the Clock

When someone you care about is in pain, a minute feels like 10. Never say I’ll be there soon or your medications will be available in a few moments. Your definition of soon and a few is never going to match that of a family member.

Instead, tell them what you will do. “I’ll contact a physician right away to see how we can safely manage his pain” is an extraordinary response. It states an action, uses “we” to show whose side you are on, and tops that with a statement that shows you hear the concern.


Lesson #5: Use Teach-Backs Strategically

If you can’t tell it in their eyes, their body language will give it away. It's obvious when someone is hearing but not understanding. Let the moment pass and you’ve set the stage for an expectation that won’t be met. You need to be willing to say, “I want to make sure you understand. Can you repeat it back to me in your own words?”


Lesson #6: Be as Open as HIPAA Allows

Invite spouses or those with approved to make medical decisions for the patient to listen in on rounds. What’s told to an intern can be told to a wife or husband.


The Take-Away

The actions you take, whether big or small, are the seeds of tomorrow's stories. Members of faith communities will be familiar with verses that reinforce the concept that you will reap what you sow.

What seeds will you and your team plant today?