As a volunteer director, I often make patient rounds with my CNO. At my hospital, staff and volunteers alike make patient satisfaction a top priority. We frequently round on patients, not only to assess their needs, but to also find out what didn’t go right so we can learn from it, correct it and make things better for everyone. During one particular interaction, I discovered how easy it can be to change a patient’s perception of the hospital from negative to positive.
My CNO and I walked into a room and encountered a female patient and her husband. We inquired about their experience, and their response revealed an opportunity for improvement. The woman said she was admitted through the emergency room, sent to another unit and finally arrived at the room she was currently in.
The patient told us how sick and scared she was. Her experience in the ER was somewhat of a blur, but she remembered very clearly an abrupt nurse in one of the units. She said the nurse didn’t listen to her, and her husband echoed the lack of attentiveness on behalf of the nurse. Once she was brought to her private room, however, she said she had received nothing but the best treatment.
After she recounted her story, my CNO told the patient "I am very sorry to hear that, because what I hear is that the care is very good. I will investigate the situation, and again, I am sorry.” I too have always heard about the exceptional treatment people receive in our facility, and was quite surprised to hear anything negative at all regarding the care. This patient and her husband started to protest a bit stronger. They repeated their story about how the nurse treated them in the unit.
I thought to myself, remember it is the patient’s perception of care and sometimes we have to do our best to make the patient experience better. When this patient goes to fill out a patient satisfaction survey we want to have eliminated or decreased the negative impression of our hospital. Before we left the room, I looked closely into the woman’s eyes and simply said, "I’m sorry you believe you didn’t receive the treatment you deserved. It’s not ok, and we need to do better.”
I wanted to let the woman know that I too heard her. If I were a patient and felt I was not treated compassionately, I would be upset as well. What happened next was pretty amazing. As we started to get up and walk out, the woman said, "Well, people are only human and everyone has a bad day. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble and really my care was very good.” At that moment I knew, just by being heard and acknowledged, the woman went from being upset, to all smiles, as she chatted about how she was feeling much better and hoped to be discharged soon.
I learned that day that making rounds is very important and we must really listen to what our patients are telling us. If a patient claims to have had a bad experience, they had a bad experience. It is our job as hospital staff to make the situation better, rather than be defensive. It is much better to just listen to our patients. Their information is a gift, and we should acknowledge their concerns. We should apologize, investigate and correct. Only then, will our patients begin to forgive any imperfections that occurred during their stay, and they could even become our greatest advocates. We want our patients to have the best experience when in our facility.
Since 2003, Irene Brennick has managed over 700 volunteers at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, California and puts on health and education events as their Director of Community Services. She has a total of 24 years of experience developing and implementing dynamic volunteer programs. She has also addressed tens of thousands of people and her story has been featured in the L.A. Times, Daily News, and on television and radio. Ms. Brennick also speaks on topics that include, finding one’s purpose in life, the importance of giving back through volunteerism, and how anyone can be an inspirational public speaker.