Our health is paramount. At one time in our lives, we need a health check or we need some form of medical or surgical intervention. Many of us have experienced health care services directly as patients or indirectly as relatives of a patient. I wonder why customers in healthcare are called patients. Nothing to do with being patient I believe. I checked out the origin of the word patient and it was quite surprising. The word patient comes from the Latin word “patien” drawn from the verb “patior’ which means to suffer. The origin of the word though interesting should not be taken literally. This is because those in need of healthcare services need not bear additional suffering; the emotional drain from a medical condition or procedure is already enough suffering.
Interactions between patients and those in the wider healthcare sector happen in diverse ways. The most common being visits to doctors clinics, while the most intense are admissions in hospitals. When several procedures need to be done and nursing care is required, the intensity of interactions increases further. The entire network in the health sector looks like a spider web with many interlinked parts. The providers of healthcare insurance, the emergency rooms/casualty, the hospitals, nursing homes, the general practitioners’ clinics, the specialist clinics, the dentists, the laboratories, the pharmacies, the home health providers all offer unique services. Many of us have a story or two to tell about our experiences in healthcare. Most stories that I have listened to go beyond the final health outcome to the intricacies of the end-to-end experience.
The Institute of Customer Experience Kenya recently organized a round table discussion on the topic of “Driving Service Excellence in the Health Sector”. The passion with which the participants shared their pains was evident. It was not the pain as often described in medical terms; it was the pain of an end-to-end process that is not entirely patient-friendly. The list of pains was long. Many talked of wait times at doctors and dentists’ clinics despite booking appointments. Others find the admission and discharge process too painful. For others, the lack of simple information and explanations by medical professionals remains a source of great pain. Why are patients and their relatives kept in the dark regarding the medical condition being treated and possible outcomes? Why is bad news sometimes broken in a way that leaves many devastated? Balancing medical interventions and needed empathy seems a challenge to many in healthcare. If one is injecting a patient, simply mentioning that there will be pain reduces the pain sensation.
Most of us relate patient experience to hospitals. Can hospitals be rated as hospitable? If one is hospitable, it means they are friendly and welcoming. Are hospitals really exemplifying hospitality? Visiting a hospital is not an experience that delights many. The origin of the word hospital points to the concept of a guest or a visitor; one not staying forever. Hospitals and all those in the healthcare sector need to do a little more to tighten the loose ends in patient experience. Some providers have mapped out their process and made them less painful. However, the attitude of some working in healthcare is often the source of great pain. Many in nursing care seem to get it; unfortunately, other sections lag behind. It seems it might take a while before everyone in healthcare becomes intentional about reducing the pain in the patients’ end-to-end experience. For those that make patients feel and get better, keep it up!!
Dr Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via Twitter @KiruthuLucy