It goes without saying that, like many things in life, your experience in the healthcare system just depends. It depends on your income, your social status, your insurance carrier, your level of self-advocacy, and, last but not least, the people caring for you.
With approximately 10 years of experience working with almost every archetype imaginable in the healthcare system, my mom and I have learned a thing or two about how emotional intelligence affects her quality of care.
Ah yes, emotional intelligence. There goes that buzzword again that seems nebulous when you first hear it but really boils down to a basic principle—the importance of knowing oneself, learning others and responding with compassion.
What other environment is this principle more important than in a system where people’s lives hang in the balance?
In case you think I’m being dramatic, we actually encountered this first-hand at a particular hospital which shall not be named. Same hospital—two starkly different experiences.
Last year, we were assigned a case manager who called me to discuss my mother’s discharge plan. The doctor determined it was best for her to go to a rehab facility due to muscular atrophy from being bed bound for so long—she could barely hold her head up. After undergoing a hellish journey with a couple of other rehabilitation places, I decided to ask about another option—Home Health. A perfectly natural avenue to consider for a professional recruiter who had spoken to hundreds of Home Health nurses and heard about the miraculous healing elements of home.
“Could you please ask the doctor if it is safe for her to have Home Health?” Now, keep in mind it was not a request; it was a question—very important distinction. An important distinction that was not recognized apparently because a few hours later, I received a phone call asking me to pick up my mom by end of day.
I was shocked. This isn’t a Fed-Ex package you’re talking about here; it’s a human being.
Upon arrival, the process of discharge had a sterile, routine feel to it—“Here’s her medications…see her doctor in a week…here’s information about her diagnosis. Any questions?”
While I was glad to see that the case manager had taken the initiative to order a wheelchair and bedside commode, my mind had not caught up with what was happening and seeing my mom still in acute pain and distress added to my worry. Never mind that, with such short notice, I did not have time to fill the prescriptions she was missing–namely the pain medicine.
Then came the news that she was going home with the Foley catheter and the nurse fumbled to give me a 3-minute crash course in managing and maintaining the catheter. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Upon seeing my visible agitation, the nurse and two PCAs stared at me with an expression that could only be described as familiar exasperation and synchronized discombobulation. Needless to say, that night bringing her home was a total nightmare and she ended up right back in the emergency room two hours later. It went down in history as the worst healthcare experience we ever had.
Now fast forward to this past week at the same hospital, different case manager and I was amazed by the miles-apart difference in approach. This particular case manager (Jason, we’ll call him), intently listened. I had questions and Jason had answers. If he didn’t have the answer, he found it.
What’s more is that when we got to a point where I thought we were heading down the same sad, tired road of all the doctors and nurses excluding me from the conversations about my mom’s care, I shared my frustration with Jason. He immediately acknowledged my feelings and said, “I absolutely understand; I hear you.”
He arranged for an advocate to be put on our case and the doctor who I had been trying to reach for weeks called me that same day. Jason also transferred the prescriptions we needed BEFORE she was discharged. Afterwards, the advocate and Jason called to make sure I felt at ease before discharging her home.
The icing on the cake was when he asked me if I had transportation to get her there and I told him I was going to call a wheelchair accessible taxi, he said “No, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” and he arranged for a non-emergency, wheelchair accessible van to take her home.
Throughout our conversations, Jason was kind, patient, personable and compassionate.
He was everything you would want a case manager to be. Hell, he was everything you would want anyone to be!
It goes without saying that when we discuss revolutionizing the healthcare system, I believe it means universalizing the “Jason Experience.” But if we are going to hire and train the right people, it means we all have to strive to be “the right people.”
Know that whoever you are and whatever you do—teachers, nurses, doctors, janitors, singers, senators and secretaries, etc.—your words and actions matter. They vibrate, turning over rocks, moving mountains, starting or squelching fires, building walls or breaking them. They affect lives.
If we want better healthcare—if we want a better world—it begins and ends with us.