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A Thin Line - The Nature of Care*

Posted By Paul Westbrook, Thursday, June 04, 2015
Updated: Thursday, June 04, 2015

The etymology of the word hospital indicates that it derives from two rather divergent concepts. The first is the Latin hospes, from which we get warm words like "hospice”, "host” and "hospitable.” The second, also from Latin, is hostis, the root for the rather alarming concepts like "hostile” and "hostage.” As the saying goes, "There’s a thin line between love and hate.” For us in the hospital profession, perhaps we also walk on a thin line.

In my work with a renowned healthcare system in Northern Virginia, I noticed that there are day-to-day elements surrounding us that seem both hospitable (hospes) and hostile (hostis) in the care environment. Hospitable concepts include ideals: emotional connection, welcome, compassion, service, intrinsic joy, extraordinary care, empathy and excellence. Seemingly hostile topics include realities such as: regulatory pressure, profit preoccupation, command and control, task driving, growth planning, provider centrism, compensation concerns, and too many patients and not enough time. Perhaps on any day, we might forgive ourselves when instead of acting as hosts, we catch ourselves treating our patients as hostages. When even small feelings of hostility supersede a spirit of hospice and warmth. Maybe and simply that’s the human nature inherent in the nature of care.

I came to healthcare from 27 years’ executive service with Ritz Carlton and the Marriott Corporation. In the hospitality industry, hospes should always prevail, yet often doesn’t. Again, human nature. Over the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of leading the transformation at Inova Health System in its desire to achieve patient experience excellence. The commitment, collaboration and the results are inspiring, yet have not been without their challenges.

Central in this transformation was our focus in examining 5 key work streams: Culture, Communication, Human Resources Process, Leadership Development and Service Excellence and inculcating these with hospitality principles. As noted, in our introspection, we found both hospitable and hostile elements, both the hospes and hostis.Again, human nature inherent in the nature of care.

Given the power of human nature and our propensities, especially under the many pressures that we face each day both on the business-side and the care-side of healthcare, how do we keep ourselves focused to "deliver the unexpected,” to provide "extraordinary care” and to experience transformation expressed in "service excellence?” At its base, perhaps such service requires a spirit of genuine intentionality, and if I can borrow a word from the hospitality industry, maybe it takes a spirit of "Concierge,” which etymologically means to act "with service.”

Hospitality and hospital share the same linguistic roots. Hospitality principles like making emotional connections, individualizing service, recognizing and celebrating success and striving for service excellence guided us at Inova in our transformation. Integrating these hospes ideals into our work streams helped us gain immediate and sustained patient experience success.

 *This is the first piece of a special three-part guest blog series focusing on various components of patient experience excellence, including patient and family care, culture and leadership and employee engagement.

Paul is the Vice President of Patient Experience at Inova Health System. Prior to joining Inova, Paul began his service delivery consulting company, Westbrook Consulting, LLC, with the mission of transferring his 35 years of hospitality service in branding, strategic deployment, and operations to other service industries, to give back to his community and make a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives. Paul is also part of The Beryl Institute's Patient Experience Executive Board.

Tags:  culture  healthcare  hospital  Leadership  patient experience 

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