Those of us who work in the health care system are constantly aware that the work we do every day is in service of the citizens of Saskatchewan. But at the same time, we often talk about “patients and families” or “the public” in a way that makes them almost seem like a separate group of people.
We still care about them and their interests. But what’s sometimes lacking is a personal connection that makes them real to us – especially those of us not working at the point of care. We can inadvertently become detached from “the public” as we work hard to improve the health care system. Until you have one of those days when “the public” becomes your friend, your colleague, your family member. It happened to me this past weekend.
My brother-in-law has faced many challenges with Crohn’s disease over the last three years. Surgeries, procedures, medications, diets, good advice, bad advice…. all of the typical trials and tribulations of managing a chronic disease. If, like me, you are the only person in your family with a health care background, you become the point person for questions, concerns, frustrations, and advice. Admittedly, my expertise is fading the more time I spend away from clinical practice. But my “value add” to my family and friends is my “insider” advice on how to navigate a system that can seem complex and confusing at times. So I’m usually in constant communication with my family via text messaging whenever one of them is in hospital.
Although my sister and brother-in-law live 3 hours away from Saskatoon, their surgeon and Crohn’s specialist are both located in Saskatoon. So when things start going very wrong, they usually hop in the car and head straight for the city. They hit the Royal University Hospital Emergency Department Saturday around noon and I braced myself for the litany of text messages that all too often involved frustrations, irritations, clarification questions, etc.
But something amazing happened this weekend. I wasn’t receiving text messages of frustration. I was receiving positive messages about the improvements they had seen since their last few visits in the ER. Here are some of the changes they noticed:
- There was no parking fee because of the Remembrance Day holiday. They weren’t clear if this was a permanent improvement or if it was just their lucky day. But they appreciated this little piece of good news on an otherwise bad day.
- They noticed that providers working in the ER had access to tests and scans that had been done previously both in Saskatoon and in their home region. My sister said it was a relief they didn’t have to remember all of the tests and their results, or wait for this information to be faxed from somewhere else.
- They appreciated the new triage system. Rather than waiting in a long line, they spoke to a nurse right away, then moved to a seating area while they waited to register. They felt this was a much smarter and safer way to triage patients.
- My sister also recognized the improvements made to the main level mall area, including a nice new seating area. She didn’t get to spend any time there on Saturday, but mentioned it was a nice place to be able to spend time on admission. Something they struggled to find with a previous admission to RUH.
- The single biggest improvement they commented on was the free wireless internet available in the hospital. With a new iPad in tow, they were beyond thrilled to be able to do their own research, make notes, and pass the time. While they were waiting they found an app called MiHealth that may be a benefit in managing my brother-in-law’s chronic illness. He also used his iPad to FaceTime his 3-year-old son at Grandma and Grandpa’s the next day. If only we could quantify the cost/benefit of that small change in our health care system. This one seems like a “just do it” patient experience improvement project that could easily be implemented across the province.
Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows during their time at the ER. The food options were less than optimal for someone with Crohn’s. And it was well over 12 hours before he was admitted to a room where he could move off the hard stretcher and shut off the lights to get some sleep.
At the end of the day though, they noticed and appreciated the improvements that have been made. The changes renewed their hope that the health system they will likely be engaged with for years to come is getting better… slowly but surely.
We know improvement efforts in all areas of our health system are happening all of the time. Sometimes those improvements are seen by patients and families. But sometimes they’re not. On behalf of the Avis family, I want to take the time to thank all of you who are focusing in on improvements directly seen and felt by “the public.” Your work IS making a difference.
PS – If improving the quality of food for patients and families is of interest to you, check out this CBC news story from earlier this year with 3 great videos that show some innovative ways of driving out food-related waste and improving food quality. I especially like the video called “St Michael’s Food Answer”.