Working in health care there’s a funny phenomenon that occurs – we are so focused on helping others and improving care that we tend to compartmentalize people into targetable streams. We have one strategy for patients. One for caregivers. One for people working in health care. We often forget that they are all the same people. We are all patients.
This was never truer than earlier this year when I found myself in my doctor’s office after others found me slurring my words and not making sense. I have spent many years working to improve the patient experience without giving much thought to myself as a patient. Of course when I was caring for a loved one or listening to the stories of others, I was always struck by the need to do better to improve their experience. However, I think it speaks to the nature of those who work in health that we never say we are going to improve the experience for ourselves – even though we are also users of the health care system.
Sitting in my doctor’s office, I was vulnerable in a way I had never been before. I didn’t know what was wrong – only that I needed help. I felt fortunate to have great access to primary care – and I thought about how we need to continue to work hard to make sure everyone has this kind of access to their doctor or nurse practitioner.
On my way to the hospital, I was scared – much like I’m sure everyone is when they don’t know what’s wrong but the look on the doctor and nurse’s face the says it’s serious. Even though I took great comfort in knowing that the quality of care in our local hospitals is second to none – nothing eases the stress of the unknown. Nothing that is, except the incredible people working in our local health care system.
From triage to testing to admission I was overwhelmed with their confident compassion. “Don’t worry, we’re going to take care of you.” The simplest words meant so much to me and to my family at a very difficult time. The health care I received was of the highest quality but it was the way I was cared for that made the experience so much more. As I moved into rehab, all I could think was that the wonderful staff in hospital, primary care and rehab go above and beyond – Every. Single. Day. Regardless of what might be going on in their lives that day – stresses at home, a sick child or parent – patients were the highest priority in the moment.
My recovery was slow but steady and I am incredibly grateful for all the support I received across our health system. I am also grateful that I received care within an area of our health system where great focus has been placed on improving the patient experience through best practice and integration. I know that this is not the experience of everyone – but I also know we have what it takes to change that.
I am glad to be back and excited to share my experience as a patient as a means of continuing our work to improve the patient experience for all residents in Waterloo Wellington. Former hospital CEO Bonnie Adamson spoke recently at the National Forum on Patient Experience about how her perspective changed when she retired from her role to become a full-time caregiver. She said she wished she could go back and re-do her time as a CEO all over again. She said she thought she “got it” but she really didn’t until she had journeyed through the health system with a loved one.
I have the great fortune of utilizing this perspective now as we lead a high-quality, integrated health system for local residents – in partnership with all of the incredible heroes working in our health system. Collectively, we have one role – to improve the patient experience. From pre-birth to palliative care and everything in between. It’s an important one – for patients, for caregivers, for health professionals, for everyone. We are all patients, after all.