High Tea at Taussig Cancer Institute: Improving Patients' Experience at Cleveland Clinic

It's 2:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in a room called The Bistro, and people are quietly sipping tea out of china teacups and nibbling on pastries as they listen to a pianist performing.

This is not the scene that comes to mind when most people think about cancer centers. But this is exactly what takes place at Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute on a weekly basis. The high tea program, which began in 2007, is open to all cancer patients, their families and friends and employees. The program provides a relaxing break from chemotherapy and other appointments at the center, and is one way Cleveland Clinic hopes to make patients' experience as best as possible given their illness. "We place a lot of importance on putting patients first; it's our guiding principle for everything we do," says Megan Kilbane, patient services administrator for Taussig Cancer Institute. "High tea is one way we can add to our patients-first principle by showing we truly appreciate them." Other programs at Taussig designed to enhance the patient experience include social work services, art therapy, pet therapy and pastoral care.

The personnel touch
Creating a supportive and healing environment in any healthcare facility depends a great deal on the attitude and behavior of employees and volunteers. "The drive towards [patient] experience is focusing on our own caregivers; they have to be fully engaged," Ms. Kilbane says. At Cleveland Clinic, every employee is trained in customer service, and greeters are stationed at every entrance to welcome patients and their families and provide directions or other assistance. In addition, Taussig Cancer Institute has a volunteer base of a couple thousand people, according to Ms. Kilbane. "Specifically within the cancer institute, we tend to attract people who have that extra desire to give back even more — a cancer survivor or someone who had an experience with cancer in their lives. They have a level of empathy that's effective with other patients," she says.

Volunteers at the center can improve patients' experience simply by being a companion or getting patients something they need, such as a glass of water or bowl of soup. One of the keys to a positive patient experience, according to Ms. Kilbane, is that "every single person understands that they are an important component of a patient's experience, from a valet to cleaning personnel to a physician. Everybody plays a part in whether the patient has a positive or negative experience through [his or her] cancer journey."

Knowledge is power
In addition to engaging employees and volunteers, engaging patients in their care can improve their experience. "Specifically in cancer, another way to make sure patients have a positive experience is providing them with information they need to feel comfortable with their decisions and as comfortable as they can with their diagnosis," Ms. Kilbane says. Taussig Cancer Institute has a cancer answer line staffed by advanced practice nurses who can answer patients' questions as well as a website, chemocare.com, which is sponsored by the national non-profit organization Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative and has a range of information on chemotherapy. "We try to create a high level of trust with patients so they're comfortable with the care they're receiving," Ms. Kilbane says. "That level of comfort and trust can allow them to focus on what they need to focus on, which is healing, their family and their part in creating a good experience. We try hard to treat the entire person, not just the cancer part of that person."

Another service Taussig Cancer Institute offers cancer patients is the 4th Angel Mentoring Program, a telephone-based mentoring program that is also part of the Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative. In this program, cancer patients are matched by personality, age, career and other personal information with cancer survivors, who provide guidance and comfort to patients. Connecting patients with others who understand their situation lets patients know they are not alone and helps them have a more positive experience.

More Articles on Patient Experience:

Personalizing the Patient Experience: Thoughts From Paul Spiegelman, CEO of The Beryl Companies
Molding the Patient Care Experience Through 5 Critical Surgical Stages

10 Keys to Designing an Effective Patient Engagement Strategy

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