I’ve written and spoken volumes about the importance of trust in healthcare encounters—how fragile it is and how vital it is in the patient experience. So it never ceases to amaze me at the number of botched encounters I experience as a consumer and family member.
I’ve just accompanied my mom through her radiation treatment for lung cancer. She made the decision to have the treatment after sorting the options and weighing the pros and cons. She has a wonderful oncologist who spends a good amount of time with her helping her make the decision and engaging her in the process. He is, in my book, the “poster boy” for a great doctor. He gets and A for engagement, empathy, communication, and respect. Why then would my mom and I both describe the overall experience as lousy? It’s because once the decision was made to begin the process everything else along the continuum fell apart.
The doctor told us there would be 5 treatments total. The scheduler told us 15. That is a huge difference for someone who has to travel a distance. But after a week of us sorting out rides and logistics for 15 treatments we got the call that confirmed it was indeed only 5 treatments. That was a relief but also irritating that a misinformed scheduler caused such angst for the family.
On the first day of treatment the tech handed me an appointment card with all the subsequent appointments. These were different from what had been given me by the scheduler and those listed on her patient portal and would cause me to rearrange my schedule. When I questioned her, the tech said, “Oh, you can never trust what’s on the patient portal. We’re the only ones who can give you the real times because we double book.” Here’s what’s wrong with her unfiltered statement: A. After spending millions of dollars to build a state of the art patient portal, why in the world would you tell a patient not to believe the information? We need to be able to trust that all that information is accurate. B. Why would you ever tell a patient that they are double booked? We need to trust that the appointment is our agreed upon date and time. C. You are the ones who scheduled the original appointments.
On the day of the re-scheduled appointment, I got a call asking if we were coming because they had us scheduled for an earlier time. OMG! They were actually scolding me for not keeping the appointment they had changed to another time.
The final kick came just 2 days ago when, just 3 days after completing the treatment, mom had complications requiring an ER visit to our local hospital. While sitting in the ER with my mother, the oncologist called my cell for an update. I told him that I would have the ER doctor call him back. After waiting a painfully long time, the ER doctor came in and said he had just tried calling the other hospital’s access center and they had no record of my mom ever having been there. Only three days after finishing treatment and she had vanished from the system? What?! It took a few more calls, but the ER physician was finally able to make the connection and collaborate on the treatment plan.
If I didn’t have complete faith in the oncologist and in the knowledge that the treatment plan had been carefully laid out between him, the physicist, and dosimetrist, I would have wondered if they had the right treatment for the right patient based on everything that occurred.
When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, the patient gets lost, confused, and loses trust. When they lose trust they become leery, uncertain, and angry. You can have the best technology in the hands of the most skilled physicians and still create an awful patient experience. Make sure all the people and processes are up to par or you’ll betray patient trust at every turn.