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"My mom is not Patient 507!"
I was stunned, appalled, disgusted, actually.
My mom, siblings, wives and I were at a second opinion appointment; my mom is working with multiple myeloma and wanted to know more about the stem cell transplant option.
So, we waited in the lobby space for the restaurant buzzer to go off in "30 to 45 minutes" so she could register. At the 45-minute mark, I edged forward in my seat ready to spring up as soon as the red circle of lights started chasing each other around the buzzer's perimeter. At the 55-minute mark, I worried: "Is the buzzer broken? Did they try and call us but we missed our chance?"
To relieve my concern, I went to the check-in desk and said, "My mom is here for an appointment and we've been waiting for an hour even though we were told it would be 30 to 45 minutes."
The receptionist reached for the buzzer in my hand, found the number on the back, matched it to one of the manila folders in an organizer on the desk and said, "Oh, Patient 507." There was a short pause as her eyes quickly scanned the folder contents. She continued, "It shouldn't be more than five or 10 minutes," and handed me the buzzer.
Patient 507? Excuse me? I'm sure my face revealed my shock and then disgust.
Now, the receptionist had the best of intentions and was attempting to protect my mom's privacy and confidentiality. Still, it hurt. "Patient 507" was offensive to me because it depersonalized and dehumanized my mom.
I share this story because my mom's health challenges and connections with healthcare organizations during the past two-and-a-half years have been my primary "learning center" as a patient experience leader. I have observed more "outside-in-sights" as the son of a mother, whom I greatly love, who has multiple myeloma than from the 5,000-plus pages of patient experience blogs, research studies and articles I've read.
By reflecting on that brief moment of truth--a touch point with that organization seared into my memory--I learned a key lesson: "Follow the lead" of the patient or family member.
Since I referenced "my mom" in the conversation with the receptionist, she could have protected privacy and confidentiality in a patient-centered way by doing what I did, saying: "It shouldn't be more than a five or 10 minute-wait for your mom."
While I am not grateful she struggles with the effects of multiple myeloma, her experience has been my teacher and guide. I've learned new ways to avoid "inside-out" (organization-centered) language, rationale, justifications and instead "see through the eyes" with the "outside-in" perspective of the patients and family members I encounter every day.
As Patient Centered Care Awareness Month comes to conclusion, I am grateful healthcare organizations are seeking expert advice from patients.
As Tom Dahlborg emphasized in his recent Hospital Impact blog post, "Prevent a 'triple fail' with true patient-centered care" and Jason Wolf reminded with his post, "Think small for big patient experience results," patient-centered care and the small things make a difference in the healthcare experience.
So, as you consider your organization's patient experience initiatives and projects, how can your own "outside-in" experience as a patient or family member provide insights?
Doug Della Pietra is the director of Customer Services and Volunteers for Rochester General Hospital in New York, where he directs an intentionally-designed patient- and family-centered volunteer program, oversees the front-line valet and guest services teams, and leads the service excellence element of the Patient Experience Initiative while co-chairing the hospital's Patient Experience Team. Follow Doug @DougDellaPietra on Twitter.
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