Hospitals recognize that patient care is more than medicine
By Eric Warner
In May 2013, I headed to St. Louis to visit my mom. But instead of going to the house where I grew up, I visited her in the cardiac intensive care unit of Mercy Hospital St. Louis. After a concerning echocardiogram, she had a procedure to drain close to two liters of fluid surrounding her heart—enough to fill the biggest of BigGulps.
I’m usually nervous enough about going home and sleeping in my old twin-sized bed, and I was particularly worried about seeing my mom in the ICU, but the hospital itself put me at ease—the way it was laid out; the colors; the staff; even being greeted by a concierge when I entered. I told my fiancée, “This hospital is so… hospitable.”
My mom was in recovery by the time we arrived. Sitting with her, she told us she was scared but seemed to feel better as she looked through the books I brought her while I opened the blinds to let in some natural light.
“Hospitalization can certainly be stressful, and can take an emotional toll on family members,” says Kim Feingold, PhD, founder and director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Cardiac Behavioral Medicine program.
Northwestern’s S.M.A.R.T. Heart program (Stress Management and Recreational Therapy for Heart Patients) provides cardiac patients the opportunities to distract themselves and engage in recreational or relaxing activities to ease their minds and improve their emotional experience so that they feel better as a whole. Feingold, who founded both the Cardiac Behavioral Medicine and S.M.A.R.T. Heart programs, oversees several cardiac psychologists as well as volunteers who circulate among the patients.
They “go into each of our patient’s rooms with a S.M.A.R.T. Heart Cart filled with board games, puzzles, DVD players and movies. Some of our volunteers happen to have been cardiac surgery patients themselves,” Feingold says.
Northwestern’s cardiac patients “recognize that they [are] there for their heart,” but they also realize “that we’re treating the mind, not just the body,” Feingold says.
That combination of mind/body practice is important to Kari Lindholm-Johnson, the artist-in-residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. The Artist-in-Residence program has provided over 800 patients and their loved ones the opportunity to use creative expression to help in their healing.
“Relating of experience is especially important during times of illness, when people often feel alienated from their own bodies or experience separation from loved ones,” Lindholm-Johnson says.
Courtney Castillo, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist at Swedish Covenant adds, “[Patients] may not get that they’re down. Not depressed per se, but just having a hard time coping. Just the other day, while doing an expressive arts program, [a patient] said, ‘This is exactly what I needed.’”
For Lindholm-Johnson, “Hospitality is about people feeling like they are welcome; to know that they matter and have a place to be.”
After I returned to Chicago, I was still concerned about my mom, who remained in the hospital. She was doing extremely well, and I trusted the hospital and its staff, but I still wondered who would be there to help her through the rest of her journey.
For patients at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (UI Health), that person would be the patient experience navigator. Airica Steed, MBA, RN, EdD, chief experience officer at UI Health, designed the patient experience navigator position to provide a hospitable, exceptional and personalized patient experience.
“It doesn’t matter [whether] you’re an in-patient or an out-patient, you’re going to be visited by a patient experience navigator who will assure that you have access to resources such as guest housing, transportation, parking and language-support services, or other service amenities,” Steed says.
Cheryl Pinotti, director of UI Health’s Patient and Guest Experience Office, which is the new name for Guest Services, says, “The hospital is a very busy place, so we try to be the face—the advocate for the [patients]—and help them get around a pretty busy and complex medical center.”
According to Steed, over the past two years, UI Health has adapted and borrowed practices from the best in hospitality, including Disney and the Ritz-Carlton. This resulted in a greater than 40 percent leap in patient satisfaction.
“People know their own healing å they feel it,” says Meagan Brown, a mind/body medicine therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). “By creating a space that feels good, the environment and the relationships formed therein become part of the healing.”
CTCA also offers wellness programs to complement treatments, providing acupuncture, massage and Reiki, among many other alternative options.
“The CTCA was designed to be a kinder, friendlier hospital,” Brown says. “By paying attention to small details like offering free muffins and fruit in the waiting rooms, or the concierge service in the main lobby, our patients often reflect that checking into the hospital feels like checking into a hotel or resort.
“The CTCA’s foundational tenet focuses on the mother standard, or caring for every patient the way you would want your own family to be treated,” she says.
Mom made it out of that St. Louis hospital not too terribly worse for the wear. Her heart is in good shape. But when she needed her hip replaced in March, it was apparent how important a welcoming and hospitable hospital can be. She chose to return to Mercy.
I asked her whether she was worried.
“No,” she said. “As soon as I got in there, I felt OK. I thought, ‘I’m safe here.’”
Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2014 print edition