Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola president: 5 things that should never get in the way of patient care

As health systems resume elective surgeries and find the "new normal" for operations amid the pandemic, the patient experience is more important than ever.

Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola (Fla.) President Dawn Rudolph was asked: What patient experience 'never events' must health systems eliminate?

Here is her response:

1. Unexplained delays
There will always be the potential for delays in the healthcare environment. When we establish specific timeline expectations, we are responsible for following through with those commitments. If delays occur, it's the caregiver's responsibility to provide updates and keep the patient and family fully informed. If patients and families don't understand why delays are occurring, they may become anxious or even concerned about the caregiver's ability to meet their needs. This is just as important for follow up calls and test results. If we set the expectation for three to five days, and the patient doesn't hear from us, we will likely lose credibility and trust. Setting realistic expectations and following through are key. We are responsible for keeping the patient informed and updated through every step of their healthcare journey.

2. Care team conflict
Patients should always feel they are in a warm caring environment where the entire team is working collaboratively to provide them the best possible care. If patients observe conflict and disagreements among the team, it's likely they will start to question the team's ability to provide safe and effective care. This can quickly increase anxiety and reduce compliance as patients don't know who they should trust. It's important for care teams to communicate openly and discuss their challenges and different perspectives with one another. However, when they are interacting directly with patients and families, everyone must be on the same page and represent one cohesive care team.

3. Unclear plan of care
It's our responsibility to ensure patients fully understand their plan of care. A lack of understanding can create frustration. It can also reduce compliance and positive outcomes. Patients need to understand why we are doing what we are doing and what their goals are for each day. During patient rounding we ask patients, "It’s important to us that you understand the plan for your care. Can you tell me in your own words what today's plan of care is for you?" This is a wonderful way to validate a shared understanding of the plan of care and any specific goals. It also provides the opportunity for additional dialogue if there is a need for additional clarification or understanding.

There are also certain phrases that we should always avoid.

4. "We're short staffed." First of all, this is not the patient's problem and will only increase their anxiety and concerns. Patients will immediately become anxious about whether or not caregivers will be able to meet their needs. It's likely they will then question the decision they made to choose this facility for their care. As volumes change, there is always a potential for staffing challenges. However, there should never be an impact on patient experience or the overall quality of patient care.

5. "I've never done this before." There are few things more frightening to a patient than an unskilled caregiver. If the patient is truly frightened, they may immediately ask for a new nurse or assistant. This can permanently damage the patient and caregiver relationship. To avoid this, we encourage collaboration among our care teams to ensure there is always an experienced individual available to assist less experienced staff. From the patient perspective, there is an increased sense of confidence when multiple caregivers are present at the bedside. When done correctly, we can actually utilize these educational opportunities to enhance the patient experience.

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