A Caring Atmosphere

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSeveral months ago, an article in Impact Online Newsletter highlighted two UTMB patients, Mary and J.C. Wall, who make the one-hour drive from Angleton to Galveston every three months for standing appointments with Dr. Megan Berman. The two have been UTMB patients for fifteen years. On one particular visit, however, things were suddenly very different—Mary had a heart attack.

The story, “Routine doctor visit saves life” by Molly J. Dannenmaier, describes the amazing teamwork that took place on behalf of the UTMB team—Mary was in surgery within minutes, and the couple was compassionately supported and guided through the event, from the onset of the attack until Mary’s release from the hospital. Mary’s cardiologist, Dr. Umamahesh Rangasetty, even took the time to show J.C. a video of the surgery and explained everything that had taken place.

“He was really some doctor to take the time to do that for me,” said J.C. “When we finished watching it, we walked out of his office down the hall with our arms around each other. It was really something.”

“We love this hospital—people really take care of us here.”

This last phrase stood out to me, and I reflected on it. In terms of being in the right place at the right time, this was an exceptional story, indeed. But it also encompassed what it means when a patient or family member says that they felt “taken care of”.

How well patients perceive that they are being taken care depends on many factors. Sometimes those factors can be either personal or cultural in nature; however, as one might expect, research shows that a top indicator of care is the clinical expertise of caregivers. Additionally, patients and families want to be involved throughout the health care process so that they feel informed and are involved in care decisions. Safety is also a top priority—they want to see that systems and processes are working well.

But there is more to a caring experience than these factors alone. Patients and visitors also want to be treated like human beings, and a compassionate and supportive environment in which emotional and spiritual needs are taken into account does matter. They want to be recognized and warmly greeted. When time spent waiting is filled with fear or concern, timeliness is a factor.

Janie Pietramale, a UTMB volunteer who donates countless hours of her time to helping family members in the OR waiting room, explains, “Friends and family members are understandably worried; sometimes it’s a tense situation. Not everyone is familiar with the experience of being in an OR waiting room. They need someone to keep them informed. Often, they wait for hours, afraid to leave to eat or even go to the restroom in case the doctor comes out of the OR to give an update.”

Janie is there to offer support. She helps put family members at ease, and that is demonstrating care.

In the last Friday Flash Report, we explored the idea that building a positive work culture can influence the experience of our patients and their families, as well as for one another. Simple gestures, like providing directions to someone who might be lost, can make a big difference to patients, families and colleagues alike.

Excellent service starts with us. Whatever our role at UTMB Health, from the moment we put on our UTMB Health name tag, we become representatives of the organization, and everything we do while we wear our badge represents our commitment to our patients, visitors and colleagues.

Every detail about us, according to Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic, down to the tips of our shoelaces, symbolizes our attitude toward patient care and represents small but tangible pieces of evidence about our organization and the complex medical services we offer.

I am pleased to say that there is a simple detail that we can each add daily that will speak volumes about our caring health care environment: a smile.

There is a philosophy at Wyndham Worldwide called the “15-5 Rule”. The rule states that when you see someone at a distance of 15 feet and private conversations cease, give visual recognition, such as a smile. At five feet, acknowledge the person, and if needed, listen and offer assistance. It takes less than two seconds to make a first impression!

A UTMB patient’s family member recently wrote of their experience at UHC Oral Surgery: “It was nice to see that everyone at the front desk is mindful of patients and visitors and that they acknowledge everyone who approaches, whether they are assisting them or not.”

Imagine how improved our patient’s satisfaction will be once we practice the 15-5 rule with our patients, visitors and each other! There is power in a smile—we gain confidence in ourselves and the confidence of those around us.

A health care environment can be quite intimidating to a patient or visitor. With so much on a person’s mind and so many machines and staff hurriedly working, it’s not always clear who can be asked for help. It is up to us to deliver what every patient, family member and employee deserves—the best possible care and environment. In return, we will earn something every health care organization covets: highly satisfied patients, families and employees.