The timing couldn’t have been better. I had spent the evening coercing my toddlers to eat dinner, wrestling them into — and then out of — the bath, and refereeing fights, all while listening to the same episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse over and over again. I felt defeated.
So instead of jumping right into the dinner cleanup process, I decided to sit down first and check Facebook, and that’s when I saw it. There was a post about World Prematurity Day that showed a picture of a tiny baby. And just like that, my mood shifted from exhausted to grateful.
I immediately pulled out the baby album and stared, in awe, at photos of my premies, who were born at 33 weeks. I reflected on the experience that has changed my life forever — not just becoming a mother, but the manner in which it happened. Austin and Scarlett, now 2 and a half, were delivered by emergency C-section, and although they were generally healthy, they were underdeveloped, and had to spend 3 weeks in the NICU at CentraState Medical Center.
Until that point, I’d never spent even one night at a hospital, let alone several weeks. It was, among other things, an extremely valuable lesson in the importance of quality care — care that goes above and beyond treating a condition and, instead, treats the entire person (or in my case, the entire family). Quality care, I learned, is doing those extras like making sure ‘special care moms’ — the term for those who are discharged while our babies remain in the hospital — are provided meals and a room so we don’t have to leave our babies. It’s having nurses who take the time to comfort parents of premature infants and involve them in tasks like diaper changes and baths (which can be tricky when there are monitors and wires involved).
The care we received went above and beyond, and so my husband and I made it a point not just to send updated pictures of Austin and Scarlett to the nurses, but to visit the NICU long after they had ‘graduated.’ During our most recent visit, I noticed that the hospital had added a lounge for NICU parents, complete with couches, a fridge, and privacy curtains for moms who needed to pump.
Amazing, I thought. They took a level of care that was already excellent and made it better. Before my experience as a ‘special care mom,’ I never would have grasped the importance of something like a lounge. I never would have realized that it’s not merely a ‘lounge’; it’s a haven for mothers who are stressed and scared and need a quiet place away from the beeping monitors and fluorescent lights where they can collect their thoughts, eat a meal, or just rest.
I know how important that is, because instead of someone who merely writes about patient experience, I have lived it.
It was like going on the show Undercover Boss. By wearing a different hat, I was provided with a window into what patients really want, what they feel, and what they see. It was a perspective I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. In a recent LinkedIn article, Joseph DiDomizio, president and CEO of Hudson Group, talked about the perspective he gained by going undercover. “As executives, it is very easy to become removed,” he wrote. “We sit here in a corporate office looking at spreadsheets and making decisions, but we can’t begin to understand how those decisions affect our team. We cannot truly appreciate what they deal with each day unless we walk in their shoes.”
For hospital leaders, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean walking in patients’ shoes; it can mean walking beside them. During a session at the recent CHIME Fall Forum, Chris Walden, director of IS at Health First, talked about an experience in which senior leaders at his organizations delivered gift baskets to the homes of hospice patients. Although it was designed as a team-building exercise, it became so much more, according to Walden. “We got to see how they lived, how they interacted with their families during the last stage of their lives, and hear their stories,” he told me. “It grounded me and us as a team and made our next senior leadership team meeting more real and focused.”
And what’s even better, it showed that Walden’s team is willing to go above and beyond.