Healthcare as we know it is being challenged more than ever before, and while we are all struggling to stay safe, delivering quality care while taking precautions, we still want to make sure that we are providing a great patient experience. While patient and staff safety supersede everything else, patient experience must be woven into the management of COVID-19 in order to overcome the literal and figurative isolation our patients and families are feeling. How do we continue to factor in the human experience in healthcare as we manage this pandemic and the separation and loneliness it creates for our patients and families?
Quarantining is essential to reducing the risk and spread of viruses like COVID-19, and yet it feels so dehumanizing. Being unable to provide a personal touch, express nonverbal gestures that often ease anxieties and show how much we care can be as hard for the caregivers as it is for the patients. Patients are closed off in their rooms. Signs are hanging on the doors to warn others before entering, and personal engagement and comfort is incredibly limited and even discouraged. Staff are having to gown, glove and mask-up before they walk into each patient’s room, decreasing the frequency of patient/caregiver interaction. Adding to this, patients are being cut off from having personal visitors at a time when they need support and advocacy more than ever before. This is a lonely, scary and unpleasant experience for everyone. This is the reality of what our patients are experiencing right now.
Yet, as leaders of patient experience, it is our duty to be an advocate and to help the patient and the caregiver through this difficult time. How do we do this?
What initiatives can we create to make sure quality care is happening?
How do we keep employees’ morale up, keep them safe, allow their concerns to be heard?
How do we create genuine advocates in every staff member, regardless of his/her role?
Here are a few things that the care team can do to help everyone through this challenging time:
- Doing simple acts of kindness
- Making eye contact
- Leaving a special note on the white board
- Keeping the sheets clean and the room tidy
- Making sure that patients’ basic needs are attended to daily
- Responding timely
- Communicating with patients on their care plan
- Encouraging patients to ask questions to reduce worry and alleviate anxiety
Through these actions, staff will find their work more rewarding by engaging more with patients and each other, while patients will appreciate the elevated care experience.
Patients are frightened. The staff are frightened. As healthcare faces COVID-19, empathy can defeat fear. By working together, supporting one another and providing empathy, we can all find the WHY in what we are doing. We all get to choose how to fill our cup each day and the attitude we will have about today’s crises. Staff need you more than ever now. Reassure them, let them know their feelings and fears are valid and heard. They are not alone and not expected to do this alone. Support one another, and you will find that your support trickles down to the patient.
This is how we will get through this: leading by example and maintaining care experiences that are comforting and safe. These actions will help us all to transcend this crisis and allow all of us to meet the goals we are striving to achieve through this difficult time and beyond.
Julie Danker, Chief Experience Officer for Smart-ER is passionate about Patient Experience and capturing the voice of the patient. Julie has worked many years in healthcare providing Social Work, Case Management, Patient Advocacy and functioning as the Director of Patient Experience. Julie is a Licensed Clinical Social worker and also holds the CPXP certification. In her role at Smart-ER, which is a Stage 2 technology company that automates communication the day after a healthcare encounter to check patient wellbeing and uncover any service issues, she has been able to learn a lot from the voice of the patient and improve services for providers and consumers. Julie enjoys spending time speaking nationally on this topic and working collaboratively with other organizations on improving the experience for all.