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Kindness, humanity are best healthcare business solutions

May 14th, 2014

by Thomas Dahlborg

On a number of occasions I highlighted firsthand symptoms of our broken healthcare system.

Today I have a story that underscores the flames currently burning beneath the surface of the system. Flames that when fanned, will truly innovate and transform healthcare, and will lead to better patient and family engagement, patient and clinician activation, health and healthcare outcomes and more--all while decreasing costs.

Linda is an amazing woman and healthcare leader. She is full of passion and life--caring, brilliant, articulate and engaging. She also deals everyday with three chronic illnesses and was recently kind enough to share a story with me.


"Last summer, I awoke one morning with a severe migraine. I was already very nauseated and knew I needed to get to the hospital before the pain became too intense. I was feeling particularly alone that day. I had recently ended a relationship, my friends were at work, and although I was used to the routine of going to the hospital by myself, that day it was hard not to have someone to help me.

"When I arrived at the hospital the triage nurse automatically picked up my bag for me as she ushered me to my bed. She made eye contact with me and said softly, 'we're going to get you feeling better right away.' She then continued to lead me to the bed furthest from the noise (recognizing that the noise only exacerbated my pain).

"When another nurse came to check in on me and get me settled she was sure to keep the lights off except for when absolutely necessary, e.g., to see where to put in the IV. Putting in needles is always tricky with me (I have small veins), but she talked me through it--'keep breathing, you're OK, this is going to be over soon,' always providing comfort.

"She got me warm blankets, a pillow and an ice pack for my head. She got a bucket for me in case I threw up and also some ice chips because she figured I was feeling dehydrated too. She was anticipating my needs, knowing how vulnerable I felt. She squeezed my knee, looked me in the eyes and said, 'We're going to get you feeling better right away. The doctor will be right in. Is there anything else you need?'

"The doctor did come right away; she immediately took the letter from my specialist that I carry with me, read it, asked me what I needed and then ordered my meds. There was no questioning of my decision-making power as a patient, or the validity of my neurologist--there was a dialogue, an agreement and immediate action to make me feel better.

"The other gift the doctor and nurse gave me that day was to let me sleep as long as I needed. This is incredibly important, but tough to get doctors to understand. If I get discharged too soon, I usually get readmitted within six to eight hours.

"Long story short, my doctor and nurse gave me more than just the drugs I needed for the pain to ease. They gave me the gift of their human compassion and kindness, and I truly felt loved that day. I remember as I drifted off to sleep I actually started crying with gratitude, thinking, 'I don't need to call anyone. All my friends are right here. I'm good.' I felt like those clinicians gave me an immeasurable gift that day."

Many hospitals focus on HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) surveys to measure quality. Linda's story highlights that care provided with compassion, humanity and kindness not only aligns with the Hippocratic Oath, but also serves as a pathway to improving quality (and yes HCAHPS scores) while decreasing costs (in this example as defined by readmissions).

There are flames simmering throughout the healthcare system and as healthcare leaders it is incumbent upon us to fan these flames and ensure they spread.

Want to innovate and transform healthcare to benefit all? Help caregivers serve and provide compassionate and kind care with humanity. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the right business solution.

Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.M., is chief financial officer and vice president of strategy for NICHQ (National Institute for Children's Health Quality), where he focuses on improving child health and well-being.


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