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Understand the patient's passion, purpose for better care

December 4th, 2012

by Anthony Cirillo

Earlier this month I was participating in a board call for CCAL--Advancing Person Centered Living. I have written about what we do earlier.

The essence--it's not just about patient-centered care. People live most of their lives outside of four-walled providers--hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living. And they deserve the same dignity, respect and choice that we have concentrated on instilling in provider settings.

I digress.

One of our board members is Martin Bayne, a journalist, Buddhist monk, MIT graduate, and well known advocate for the aging. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, and for the past 10 years he has lived in an assisted living facility. He is in his early 60s.

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Well, we were having a spirited discussion about how we were going to start a campaign to infuse person-centered principles in the psyche of the public, media and the continuum of providers. Viral videos, letters to the editor--you name it, big-time plans.

Martin listened attentively for an hour. Then he politely asked to comment. And he stopped us in our tracks. He asked us to put ourselves in the resident's position. He said that every resident (speaking of his assisted living environment) becomes susceptible to what he calls the ambient despair that comes with the recognition of their community's unprecedented levels of dementia, disability, depression and death.

Martin is doing something about it. He serves as the welcoming committee in his facility and has built an entire program in helping new residents not only feel welcomed but also feel validated in a life well lived with more living to do. He told us on the call that, as big as our hearts and intentions are in spreading principles of person centeredness, what residents (read patients, home-bound elders, all of us) want is purpose.

Of course I instinctively knew this. But I have been preaching about passion and purpose for our healthcare workforce as a systemic solution to creating better healthcare experiences. Maybe we need to look at this from another angle as well.

Maybe we need to look at our patients as they lie at our mercy and think about their purpose. It is more than capturing their story as a means of building a relationship. It is more than fancy marketing campaigns about getting people back to what's important.

It's actually about deeply understanding that those we are caring for have deep passions and a purpose in their lives. And they want to get back to them. Understanding what a person's purpose is could deeply affect how you care for them couldn't it?

Take me for example. If I was your patient or resident and you took the time, you would find out I am passionate about singing for our elderly. My voice is a gift and I protect it accordingly. So I would never want any procedures, pharmaceuticals or other therapy that would damage my vocal chords. You would end my life far sooner than the illness I might have.

We are on the outside thinking we have all the answers to what goes on in the inside of our facilities. We get to go home at night after all.

Martin brought home two things for me. One, we all have purpose and if we deeply look at those in our care as people with purpose, we would care for them differently and more empathetically.

Second, Martin's voice rang so true because we (CCAL) have an organization that thought enough to include a resident's voice on it. And that is why the work of patient family advisory councils is so important. And the inclusion of the patient voice in grand rounds is equally important.

Passion and purpose--as you understand yours, come to understand the passions and purposes of those you care for every day.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, is president of Fast Forward Consulting, which specializes in experience management and strategic marketing for healthcare facilities. He also is the expert guide in Assisted Living for About.com and Healthcare Channel Partner for CEO².

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