In March, my wife and I were thrilled to welcome our second child to the world. Our baby boy was born healthy and we could not be more thankful. I did catch myself taking notes, however, as I’ve been working closely with Always Culture and learning about best practices for providing an optimal patient experience. Our overall experience was good, but there were some areas of opportunities that, if addressed, could have made it great.
Our son was a big boy – over 9 pounds, and my wife is very petite, so a few days before the due date her doctor advised that we schedule a cesarean. We gratefully accepted. My wife’s water broke with our first child, and it was like one of those movie scenes where you rush to the hospital, so it was weird just showing up at a certain time to have the baby. Weird, but nice. We stayed for two nights.
We didn’t have any really bad interactions with nurses, but we could tell a difference between the providers that were just going through the motions, trying to get through their shift, and the ones that were actually engaging with us. Right off the bat, they were asking some intake questions and mixed in with medical history, medications, and the like, was this one: “Have you ever thought of hurting yourself or anyone else?” The nurse asked it in the same casual tone that she asked about cigarette smoking. I couldn’t help but think that if the answer was “yes”, would anyone feel comfortable saying so? What would the follow-up be? It just seemed like a very personal and intimate detail that should have been approached with a bit more care.
After the baby came, we were like many parents with newborns; exhausted, delirious, and looking for the staff to assure us that our son was doing well. We may actually be a bit more sensitive than many parents. I know I tend to look for things to worry about when it comes to my kids. That’s why I replayed every word I heard from the care team over and over in my mind.
There is no “routine” for patients and their families
I remember at one point the pediatrician came in and asked us how the baby’s blood sugar was. I was thinking “I don’t know… let me ask the doctor!” The question was completely out of left field. I felt like there was something going on that we didn’t know about. I pestered the next few people who came in the room about “have you heard anything about his blood sugar?” They hadn’t. It was fine. I don’t know why the doctor asked the question, but I learned that routine communication is not routine for patients and caregivers.
Empathy goes a long way
We had a couple of nurses that I wish I could give a million dollars each. They were truly caring toward my wife. They listened, asked questions to discover what was important to her, and had empathetic responses that made us feel like we were in good hands. Breastfeeding was something that we were especially focused on because we had struggled with our first child. We knew we wanted to get as much advice as we could while we were in the hospital. Even though the nurses and lactation consultants didn’t have all the answers, the time spent with us “in the trenches” meant the world to us.
The last thing I would say about communication is that I wish that all of the staff had utilized the communication boards. Some did, but most didn’t. Time doesn’t seem to exist those first few days, so it’s helpful to know what meds you can have when, remember who your nurse is now, and how she can be reached if needed.
There were only a couple of times during our stay when I got upset. They both had to do with responsiveness. After my wife’s catheter was removed, it took a while before she could go to the restroom on her own. While she waited, her pain (and anxiety) continued to build until it became unbearable. She had been told not to try and use the restroom on her own, but she really wanted to try so she could relieve the pain. We were unable to get help to the restroom. Multiple calls using the call light didn’t work. The staff that answered the call seemed indifferent and a little put off that they had been bothered.
Eventually, I helped her to the toilet and she was able to relieve her pain (and bladder). The nurse arrived while she was in the restroom, and I was a little surprised that she didn’t stay to help her back to bed. In general, the call lights seemed to be completely ineffective. There were several occasions when she needed pain meds that I eventually went out to the nurse’s station because it was the only way we could get help. I don’t know what she would have done had she been alone.
Shift Reports and Rounding set the tone for attentive care
We never experienced a bedside shift report or regular rounding. We often found ourselves just hoping someone would show up soon, and often expecting to have to track someone down. Several hours after one shift change I went to the nurse’s station asking if we could get some medication and they asked who my nurse was. I had to respond, “I don’t know, we never met her.” Despite having some sub-par experiences, it’s amazing how one person can turn it around. It was the nurse at the station who asked me who my nurse was. She understood that the ball had been dropped and she picked it up. She got my wife’s medication and set clear expectations for when we could expect to see her again. After finding the nurse assigned to us, she had taken over our care personally. Each shift change we had been hoping that we would get a nurse who was paying attention. She was a breath of fresh air.
Any inpatient stay is a vulnerable time for patients and their families, even on joyous occasions like childbirth. Having a caregiver who is truly paying attention makes all the difference in the world. Implementing best practices like bedside shift reports, regular rounding and communication boards can help make a patient feel like they are being cared for and make a good experience an exceptional one.