The first time I was behind bars I was terrified. I didn’t believe I belonged there. I wanted out. “Wait, wait! Come back!” I yelled as I watched my loved ones walk away.
Pretty tough situation for a five-year-old.
No, I wasn’t some pint-sized Mafia kingpin. I had rheumatic fever and was in the children’s ward of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. And the grey steel bars that held me back were the guard rails on the on my hospital bed.
Those were the days when hospitals had visiting hours. Visiting was permitted only at the convenience of the hospitals — not the patients or their families.
Then, changes in health insurance reimbursement completely revamped the business model of the healthcare industry. All of a sudden, hospitals and other healthcare providers had to treat patients like customers.
Many hospitals have adapted well and learned how to provide good customer service. They understand that good customer service is good marketing.
I’ve seen it first-hand. My father has been back and forth between two local hospitals over the last two months. My daughter-in-law gave birth in a third institution in March, and my 22-month old grandson had a minor procedure in yet another.
A big change from past practice is visiting hours. Now you visit a relative when you want, for as long as you want — unless the patient is in the middle of a procedure. Most adult patient rooms are private. At the location my dad is being cared for, you can doze on a comfortable couch while you wait for him to awaken.
Instead of pressing a button for the nurse, a remote control gives you almost instant voice connection with the staff via intercom. Big-screen TVs are on the walls of most patient rooms. You choose and order your food (unless you’re on a restricted diet). Visitors can order a meal at the same time and dine with the patient.
Here’s a feature I like a lot: there’s a white board on the wall across from the patient’s bed. Every day, someone writes the date as well as the name of your nurse and the nursing assistant. Other key instructions are on the wall as well.
Another great idea: instead of all the staff wearing white, they wear color-coded outfits. Nurses are one color, assistants another, maintenance yet another. Meals are delivered by staff dressed as waiters and waitresses.
And get this — the old veil of “medical secrecy” has finally been lifted, and the idea of information being released only on a “need-to-know” basis has been canned.
Now, when a nurse or assistant comes into the patient’s room, they tell you what they’re doing. They read off the medications you are receiving, and they will answer questions.
Here’s the kicker: if you’re responsible for the decisions for the patient (an elderly parent, spouse or child) and are not present when a doctor makes his or her rounds, you can often leave your phone number and get a call from the doctor or his or her assistant for an update on the patient’s treatment. Imagine that — the doctor calling you.
Of course, none of this great customer service matters if you’re not getting excellent medical care. Needless to say, if you had to put up with discomfort to save your life or that of a loved one, you would certainly do it.
But let’s face it — we expect great medical care from all of our large healthcare organizations today. So given the opportunity, we will choose the healthcare organization that provides the best experience beyond that expectation.