Sunday, June 20, 2010

Everyone Matters in Healthcare

Not "Just" a Receptionist

A friend of mine with lung disease had gotten sick enough to be evaluated for a lung transplant. When she called one of the best centers in the country, the receptionist was horribly rude to her. She was given "the run around" and became very discouraged without ever getting an appointment to see the transplant team. Over the next few days, after several unsuccessful and impolite phone calls with various receptionists, my friend was never able to get the appointment she needed or the respect she deserved. It had been such a bad experience she gave up and went to another transplant center in a neighboring town.

The center in the neighboring town did not have the same level of expertise but the receptionists were very nice. My friend was willing to work with a less skilled team in exchange for not having to deal with disrespectful receptionists.

Logical or not, this proves a major point: everyone matters in healthcare. As a receptionist, it may not feel like you have the same power as the transplant surgeon but, in some ways, you do. As the front line, the face of the institution, you have the power to make or break the initial patient experience. You are very important. You can make a patient feel safe and cared for. You can make a patient feel alienated and like a burden. You can influence our decisions just by the tone in your voice. Never underestimate the power of a kind word.

House Keeping!

Every morning in the hospital I awoke to those words: "House Keeping!" In would come a member of the hospital's house cleaning staff and make lots of noises emptying trash cans and mopping the floors. As a sick person who craved peace and quiet, it drove me nuts. I needed that to be re-framed for me.

Recently, I heard Dr. Victor Dzau of Duke Hospital tell a story about the importance of the house keeping staff. He said when he asks his hospital cleaning staff "What are you doing?" the answer he hopes for is not "Cleaning this room" but instead "Saving lives." In an environment with so many infection risks including MRSA and Staph, just to name a few, the role of the house keeper becomes crucial. They stand between the patient and a potentially deadly infection.

We all need to be recognized for our value and this includes the house cleaning staff. What do you think they level of difference might be in a person's dedication and performance if they are, A. cleaning a room or B. saving lives. I know which job description would make me feel like an important part of the care team and motivate me to work harder!

It is important to find ways to honor everyone in the system because, in unique ways, everyone really does matter. The next time you hear the words "House Keeping!" try to thank them for the important role they play in patient safety.

As Kevin Sowers, President of Duke Hospital states, "Having patients and families tell the staff what we mean to them changes the culture of healthcare."

Being an advocate doesn't only mean speaking up about what has gone wrong, it also means enforcing good practice by speaking up and telling those caring for you that they have made your life better. Everyone matter, don't forget to tell them that!

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