A view from the other side: My time as a patient

I’ve long believed that my colleagues in the healthcare industry need to focus more on the specific needs of the patient to be successful as medical building owners and managers.

This belief is supported by more than 20 years in the healthcare real estate space, as well as recent market forces within the industry that give patients more choices and freedom in selecting their healthcare provider.

Patients want to not only have the best healthcare provider, but also a high-end, well-managed healthcare facility. In order to be competitive, healthcare systems, hospitals, and independent providers have begun building facilities that meet those patient needs with convenient locations; easy access, enhanced by features like covered drop-off canopies; sufficient parking; and ancillary medical services such as pharmacies nearby.

Recently, I’ve had the unique opportunity to see facilities through the eyes of the patient, which has shed light on an entirely different level of service that we can provide to our patients. On the morning of July 6, 2016, at 52 years old, I suffered a major stroke and stepped into the shoes of the patient. That day, the doctors told my wife that I was not likely to live and instructed her to get my children and immediate family to the hospital as soon as possible. Luckily, my doctors’ prognosis turned out to be incorrect. Rather groggily, I awoke the next day to the voice of my brother, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had flown overnight to be with me. My first thought was, "Oh no, this must be bad if he's here!" And so began my experience as the patient, and my ensuing enlightenment regarding healthcare real estate.

Initially, the stroke left me unable to walk with pretty severe paralysis of my right side, which is my dominant arm and hand. But most worrisome was the fact that I was unable to swallow and required a feeding tube for sustenance. I remember one of the nurses asking me if I had any immediate goals, and I simply said, "Eat!"

I spent the next 30 days at Advocate Christ Medical Center’s rehabilitation hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., relearning how to walk and swallow. After being discharged from the hospital, I continued the long process of rehabilitation, with daily trips to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago or, as I named it, “Camp Rehab.” After five months and 520 hours of daily rehabilitation, I was discharged in mid-December to begin the outpatient portion of my rehabilitation.

Yeah, I get it. Nice story, but what does this have to do with healthcare real estate?

I wondered the same thing as I thought about my experience and how it might relate to my career. I had trouble connecting the two until recently when I watched a YouTube video in which a woman performed an original monologue about her experience as a nurse. In the video, she talked about working with a patient and telling him she couldn't do something or change something because she was "just a nurse." One day as she helped him with something beyond medicine, the patient told her, “Although you say it all the time, you are not ‘just a nurse.’ You are my nurse. And you have changed my life because you have cared about me.”

In listening to this woman's monologue, I realized that HSA PrimeCare is not just healthcare real estate agents, or building managers, or building owners; we are part of a larger team supporting healthcare providers with the collective goal of assisting our patients in getting well as quickly and painlessly as possible. Our role is to provide an environment that is well-suited for each patient’s unique recovery. We must understand that most of the patients who enter our buildings are not operating at full capacity — whether that is due to the flu, cataracts, a broken leg, cancer or even a stroke.

On one occasion this past winter, I was walking from my car into a medical office building and encountered a patch of ice. It was already extremely difficult for me to walk in normal conditions, but the patch of ice literally froze me in my tracks. I was terrified of falling. But I was also terrified of looking silly, feeling helpless and being seen as sick. These are the feelings that we as healthcare real estate providers must be aware of while providing services to our patients. Comprehending and internalizing how our patients may be feeling allows us to better serve their needs.

Our industry can build the finest medical office buildings with all the bells and whistles and amenities possible, but without a good management team, they would still be average buildings. What I learned and am still learning in my time as a patient is that the empathy and understanding I receive from people other than doctors, nurses and therapists significantly improves my healing process. Our role as real estate providers is not only to provide an environment conducive to healing, but to also try to understand the difficulties of our patients and their families.

To this end, the HSA PrimeCare team has recommitted to the process of thoroughly assessing each of its properties and making changes to ensure that our tenants can provide the highest quality of care to our patients in an environment that is conducive to healing. As I’ve come to learn first-hand, even small adjustments such as adding chairs in the front entrance to rest in after an arduous walk through the parking lot can make a big difference. As I continue my recovery, I will continue to personally visit our facilities and seek further opportunities to address the needs of our patients in this way.

To truly succeed as a provider and manager of medical real estate, one can't simply be a medical building manager. We should strive to anticipate the unique needs of our patients and improve their experience in our buildings by embracing our role as part of a larger healthcare team working together to help in our patients’ recovery.

Timothy M. Stanton is executive vice president of HSA PrimeCare, the national healthcare real estate division of Chicago-based HSA Commercial Real Estate. HSA PrimeCare partners with some of the leading health care institutions in the nation to create development, project management, leasing, monetization, and property management real estate solutions that address the needs of today’s patients while satisfying the financial goals of the health system. A leading developer and manager of medical office buildings in the Midwest, HSA PrimeCare has developed, acquired, or serviced health care properties of more than 2 million square feet.

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