Summer is a season ripe with rites of passage and watershed moments, often accentuated by firsts and, if you are lucky enough, with love. Unfortunately, my rite of passage this summer was at the opposite end of the spectrum. My beloved 90-year-old dad died after a short battle with an aggressive cancer.
Like many therapists, I am the “go-to” person in my family for health care. My dad became a patient of the “grand poobah” of lymphoma. He was admitted to a prestigious NYC hospital, one dear to my heart-I was born there, as was my daughter, and, sadly enough, my dad died there 12 days after his admission.
I spent 12 days in the hospital with my dad-the longest time I have been hospital based since my days as a staff OT back in the 80s. Twelve days in the hospital taught me a myriad of things: morphine drips are overrated, it is difficult to turn an ICU into a hospice unit, hospital food is still horrible, and face-to-face contact with the primary physician by law can be as little as 3 minutes per 24 hours.
Above all else, I learned the lack of hospitality in the hospital setting still existed. When I realized I could not alter the outcome of my dad’s hospital admission, my thought turned to how I could improve the experience, not only for him but for our family as well. I knew he could not get better, but I wanted him to feel better. This meant hanging up family photos, bringing in comfortable down pillows, having colleagues come in to provide massage and Jin Shin Jyutsu, getting a barber to give him a bedside shave and a haircut, and making sure chocolate milkshakes were delivered twice daily.
If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9½ Things You Would Do Differently by Fred Lee is a must read for all health care administrators and providers. A main premise of the book is that we have to acknowledge that hospitals not only provide a service or product, but also an experience. Service happens outside of you, while an experience happens within you. It is the quality, consistency and substance of that experience which will likely become the hospital’s primary differentiator. Lee explains how best to implement this philosophy.
The goal is to find those approaches that foster the best behavior in staff while providing the best emotional experience for patients. He breaks down the pillars of the Disney experience and applies them to a hospital setting: the importance of patients’ perception of the care they are receiving, how courtesy may be more effective than efficiency, why patient loyalty is more important than patient satisfaction, and even how imagination (the hallmark of Disney) has its place. If you can imagine what your patient and his family is going through, you are growing your capacity for compassion.
When we find ourselves on the other side of the equation, getting care instead of giving it, it is usually an enlightening experience. Going forward, I know I need to give guidance to therapists and their staff on ensuring that the experience we create is the cornerstone of the service we provide.
Here are some articles and evidence-based research on the topic:
This column is dedicated to my Dad who died 7.10.2010