I love healthcare, and for the past 35 years of my life, I’ve done whatever I could to make healthcare better for patients and the people who care for them. Even though I know that healthcare is filled with like-minded people who work hard every day to deliver safe, high-quality care, I am a realist and recognize that sometimes things go wrong, details are missed, and things fall through the cracks. When they do, patients’ faith is shaken and trust is eroded. And when it happens to my family, it makes me realize just how much every step along the patient experience pathway matters and that one slip up causes the chain of dominoes to fall.
My mother is a spry, well-educated, computer-literate 85-year-old. She’s a savvy consumer and has no difficulty speaking her mind. Unfortunately, her medical concerns have sometimes fallen on deaf ears. She has been battling a painful eye problem that progressed from a minor irritation to a serious, sight-limiting condition that had her physicians stumped for weeks. When she was finally referred to a neuro-opthalmologist for diagnosis, she was told they needed an MRI to rule out a cranial bleed or tumor that was putting unusual pressure on the eye socket and possibly the optic nerve. Sounds serious right? But the MRI department couldn’t fit her in for five days. So she was sent home and given narcotics to relieve the eye pain and headache. (Think fall risk.)
On the eve of the long-awaited MRI, she got a call from the imaging department saying that because she had stents placed in her heart she could not have an MRI done in the machine she was scheduled in. (By the way, it was the same hospital where she had the stents placed in 2009, so this should not have been a surprise, not to mention that she had reminded them of the stents during the history.) The caller kindly re-scheduled her for an MRI at another location in seven more days. By this time, her eye pressure had risen to over 40 (normal is 10 – 20). She could not see out of the affected eye.
Needless to say, I was very concerned and outraged at yet another delay. Fortunately, I am blessed to have many friends in the healthcare industry and, after making a few calls, was able to reach someone who could pull some strings and get the much needed MRI within the day.
Once she had the MRI, the neurologist was able to make a diagnosis and embark on a treatment plan that began the slow recovery. We are now two weeks into her treatment, and I’m glad to say my mother’s sight is returning slowly and her pain is subsiding.
My mother’s experience has rattled my faith in healthcare not only because of her prolonged pain and suffering caused by delays but because it makes me wonder how many patients are slipping through the cracks every day because of simple oversights. I was able to be an advocate for my mom, which helped expedite treatment, but what about others? How many patients are slipping through the cracks each day, and who is speaking on their behalf?
Leaders talk a lot about empowering every staff member to act on behalf of the patient. In this case, if the scheduler who cancelled and re-scheduled my mother’s MRI would have felt empowered and if she had taken ownership, things would have unfolded very differently. She would have owned the oversight on behalf of the organization and done whatever she could to rectify the situation without someone having to pull strings. What are you doing to help empower your staff and to encourage them to do whatever it takes to make things right for their patients? Here’s hoping that we can all embrace a culture of ownership to keep improving healthcare into the future.