As “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” blared around me while a stranger wheeled me to the operating room with my husband in tow, my paralyzing fear and unrest broke for a moment. “I know I’m going to survive the surgery,” I told my husband. “There’s no way the last thing I hear on earth is this awful song.”
For the past five years of my career, I've touted the benefits of a calming, immersive patient experience. It's my job to verbalize the difference a good experience can make for nervous, traumatized patients who just want to go home. But a little over a week ago, after an automobile accident and subsequent ORIF on my ankle (reattaching a broken bone with screws and whatnot, for the non-clinical among us), I saw the patient experience from a whole new angle. I've gone from patient experience believer to patient experience experiment. Here's what I learned.
1. Even “routine” procedures are scary, especially if it’s a patient’s first time. And fear is not a good experience.
Of course I was always going to survive the surgery. It was ankle surgery. And a small, common one at that. But it was the first time I had ever had general anesthesia in my 37 years. What if I had a reaction to it and didn’t wake up? What if there was a major power outage in the middle of the procedure? What if they leave a sponge or something in my foot? In the OR waiting area, while I nervously scrolled through my Facebook feed to calm my nerves and distract me from the fear, I had to laugh - a bright, familiar video greeted me with the words, “I’m always super relaxed before surgery! … said no one ever.” My own words were staring back at me from eVideon’s post. It was a video our media specialist and I worked on to highlight our relaxation channels. Nailed it, I thought to myself. And “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” wasn’t a great way to calm nerves. Anything we can do to help patients relax or distract from pain or fear goes a long way.
2. Everything should be within reach. In the most literal sense.
“Did you order lunch yet?” asked a nurse when I arrived in my room.
“Uh… no… how do I…”
The nurse walked over to the small table by my bed (which I couldn’t see over the side rails), retrieved a menu, and handed it to me. “Just call the number on the front and let them know what you’d like.” This seemed like an easy process… until minutes later when I was writhing, flailing, and desperately trying to adjust my bed to be able to reach the phone. Later that night, when I went to order dinner, I had to flail again to try to reach the menu and the phone. Through my flailing, I fortunately discovered the paper channel line-up that was also on the (out of reach) table. While it sounds silly, putting resources literally within a patient’s arm span goes a long way toward a comfortable, safe experience.
3. It’s hard for patients to keep everyone straight.
My care team was diligent in updating my “whiteboard” - the dry erase board on the foot wall. At each shift change, the nurse and assistant would update their names on the board. This was helpful. But what about the physical therapist? The rando who came in to check my vitals from time to time? The social worker? It’s jarring when you hear a knock on the door every few minutes (while you’re trying to sleep) and hearing a new name, seeing a new face, and trying to remember who they are and why they were there. I have a whole new appreciation for digital care team profiles and technology that shows patients who’s entering their room at any time.
4. Old-school cartoons lie. Patients don’t want to disturb nurses.
We’ve probably all seen it on old-timey sit-coms or cartoons - a person, either sick or injured, resting in bed with a bell to ring if they need anything. The punchline is that the patient overuses the bell and annoys the caretaker with mundane tasks. But as a patient, I found myself thinking:
I could really use another ginger ale. I’m sure someone will be in soon. I’ll ask them then.
My foot is really uncomfortable, but I probably just need to reposition it. I’ll wait until the nurse comes in and have them help me.
Man, I really have to pee, but I feel so foggy on the pain meds, I’m afraid to fall. I’ll wait until the next time the nurse comes in and have them help me.
If I did use the nurse call bell, the voice that answered on the other end always seemed annoyed, discouraging me from using the bell the next time I had a request I thought might not be urgent. Maybe it was all in my mind, but I felt like I was bothering the nurses when they had other things they should be doing. Empowering patients with more self-service to get what they need from the right people helps them feel at ease because they can get what they need without “bothering” anyone, and it makes interactions with nurses more meaningful. Which brings me to…
5. Nurses and patients should focus on clinical (and even emotional/psychological) preparedness for going home.
Over and over, since the accident, I warned nurses and phlebotomists, “I hate needles. I’m not going to look.” Needles have always grossed me out. It was enough that I had to have multiple IVs and blood draws. So it was adding insult to literal injury when the nurse came in and told me I’d have to give myself two Lovenox injections every day for a month at home. “Absolutely not,” I said. “I can’t even look when they take blood. No way I can actually administer a shot to myself.”
Hours later, the nurse sat with me, calm and patient, walking me through the process and having me practice administering the injection on a wash cloth. She taught me how to prep the area, get a nice firm grip of fat (the easiest part of this whole exercise… it is the holidays after all…) and “quick like a dart.”
After lots of practice, coaching and encouragement, I finally successfully gave myself a Lovenox shot. The nurse was genuinely so proud of me, she gave me a high five. It’s those moments I needed from the nurse. I never want to steal a nurse away from those moments with other patients to refill my water or help me to the bathroom.
I’ve always believed in the importance of patient experience. But as I heal at home and return to work touting the benefits of giving patients self-service tools and digitizing workflows to make nurses’ lives easier, I have a new appreciation for what we do at eVideon. I had great clinical care for my surgery, the staff were great, and even the food wasn’t half-bad. But bringing patient tools and comforts literally “within reach” goes a long way for patient satisfaction.