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Patient Experience: The Past, The Pain, and The Promise

Patient Experience May 25, 2021

By Frank Fortner, CEO, Strategic Healthcare Connections

I grew up in a time when so many of my friends’ parents both worked outside the home and, as kids, we found ourselves with the kind of freedom that would terrify many parents today, myself included. For example, I still don’t think my mother knows that my friends and I often rode our bikes to the next town over (without cell phones to track us) and jumped off 25-foot cliffs into a deep quarry – but that’s a story for another day!

This story begins on yet another unsupervised summer day when I was 7 years old – when the last thing I can remember is riding my bike on a busy road in a suburb outside of Boston. I never saw the oncoming Ford Pinto; more importantly, the driver didn’t see me either until my body was in her windshield and my bike was under her tires. She said she wasn’t speeding, and perhaps she wasn’t, but my uncle (a police sergeant from a neighboring town) personally measured her skid marks at 90 feet long.

The next thing I remember is waking up in a post-surgical recovery room and eventually being wheeled down the hall to begin the first (and only) inpatient experience of my life thus far. For more than two weeks, I laid on my back (note: I’m a side sleeper) with my left leg hung in traction as the three pieces of my femur attempted to get to know one another again. While my nursing team was absolutely amazing, the patient experience was not something I would be eager to repeat. Even after, well, ahem, a ‘few years’, I can recall that experience as if it were yesterday. At times, I felt alone, helpless, and indeed had little to no control over my environment.

Related: Do TVs Really Matter to Patients? Why Upgrading to Smart TVs Improves Patient Experience

For example, there was a TV in the room, but no remote, so I would need to interrupt a nurse to come in and change the channel. Worse, this was the late 70’s – before cable. UHF was everything because it’s where my shows would stream in grainy color but not on-demand. If I slept through the Flintstones or Gilligan’s Island, that was it until tomorrow. There was no binging on Scooby-Doo. The best thing I had (besides hospital Jello) was a nurse call button that I mainly used in the middle of the night to ask for something to address the pain in my leg. In reality, if I needed anything, I had to interrupt a nurse from whatever else they were doing to perform mundane tasks that many patients could easily do for themselves.

Due to the changes in both technology and mindset over the past few decades, the potential to vastly improve the patient experience is incredible. Today’s patients are more discerning and expect to be treated like a customer. Having some control over their experience matters and if they don’t have a positive experience they will make that known. Companies like Sentrics have developed patient experience platforms that have put some control elements in their patients’ hands. Using modern pillow speaker remote controls, patients can easily interact with hospital smart TVs to access movies, music, relaxation content on-demand, video games for children, online meal ordering, educational content, and even change their physical environment (e.g., window blinds, lights, temperature). And while the potential is there, many organizations have not yet made the investment in technology for the patient, sadly yielding a similar experience to what I had all those years ago.

Related: 4 Practical Ways Hospitals Can Improve the Patient Experience

Case in point, last year, my youngest daughter gave birth to our first grandchild. When I spoke to her on the phone from her room post-delivery, I asked specifically about the technology she had to interface with the room, the outside world, and her care team. She said she had a call button (which was broken) and a phone she and her husband were instructed to use when they needed a nurse. This took place at a Healthgrades U.S. top 50 hospital, and I was stunned because I know we can do better – we have to do better!

I can’t help but ask how is it we’ve come so far in the technology used on the patient, but in many cases, we have barely moved the needle (pun) when it comes to technology for the patient? 

While you ponder that rhetorical question, I will give credit where it’s due. The one constant bright spot is that nurses are still as awesome as ever and indeed make up the best part of the patient experience. At the same time, I fear we ask too much of them and, in some cases, take them away from their clinical duties, because patients have no other option but to call them. 

Related: How Can Hospitals Improve Nurse Satisfaction and Retention?

While many organizations still have a long way to go in terms of giving some element of control to the patient through improved technology, I believe we will continue to see a growing trend in this direction. Until then, I’ll be watching out for Pintos!

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Frank Fortner is CEO of Strategic Healthcare Connections, whose mission is leveraging the power of connections to continue affecting positive change for healthcare and other industries. Formerly president of Iatric Systems, Fortner has helped more than 1,300 hospitals in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to solve many of healthcare’s most pressing challenges, including integrating enterprise and departmental solutions as well as medical devices to EHRs and other software systems. He can be reached at frank.fortner@sentrics.net.