Verdict from the Bench

Recently, I had the dubious pleasure of becoming a patient again. Without divulging the embarrassing details, let’s just say my bench pressing days are over.  I’ve been fortunate during my life not to have sustained any serious injuries. Sure, I’ve had the run of the mill twisted ankles, pulls and strains but nothing worse, permanent, or threatening to my preferred way of life (or fragile man-ego), until now. As soon as I injured myself I knew I needed to seek medical attention. Torn tendons aside, voluntarily entering a hospital as a patient is against my nature and better judgment as a nurse and a paramedic, but there are some things that Kerlix and Elastoplast won’t fix.

I walked up to the Emergency Department window clearly lame and in pain.  I was called back and asked the standard battery of questions in lay terms which I answered honestly and faithfully trying not to betray my secret identity as a health care provider. And so my patient satisfaction experience commenced.

Why does patient experience matter?  It matters because patients need help. Providers should care how the patient experienced their care.  From the provider’s perspective a two centimeter hand laceration, bleeding controlled, is not an emergency.  If it’s your hand, it is. One minute they are eyeing a blueberry bagel, cutting a space for the cream cheese; the next they are heading to the emergency room, hand wrapped in a towel, anxious and worried about the pain of stiches. While I can remember the times I’ve been to an emergency room or called 911, my memory of the patients I’ve cared for over the years has a lot of holes. But I’d be willing to bet they remember the day we met. An ambulance showing up at someone’s house or a helicopter landing will be a story told and retold for years to come, long after we as providers have forgotten it. Pain and desperation in a time of vulnerability heighten a person’s senses and make them acutely sensitive to any subtle changes in tone, nuance, or affect of the provider. Fair? Maybe not but it’s the nature of what we do.

A day later I received a call from the hospital checking on my experience.  By and large I had great things to say, and, as a person sensitive to both sides of that coin, I took the time to say so. My criticisms were constructive and my praise well deserved. I remembered first names when I could. I hope someone looks at my comments. I hope my time was worth it. As a patient I hope my voice matters.

There are no doubt challenges with patient satisfaction surveys.  They have limitations including: statistical reliability, validity, selection bias, and logistics. That does not mean the pursuit of patient satisfaction data is invalid.  Ben Franklin went about assessing his ability to adhere to 12 Virtues.  While, by his own admission, he failed miserably, he concluded that he was better for having pursued it in a meaningful way. The pursuit of patient satisfaction data is a virtuous aim.

Patients reluctantly invite health care providers into their lives during the most vulnerable of times. As providers we should care about how we did. As patients we should be able to communicate our experience. I don’t advise adding extra weight to your bench press because your 14-year-old son is watching, but should this dubious opportunity present itself, take the patient satisfaction survey. The data benefits us all.

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Chris Postiglione, MSN, MPH, RN, NREMT-P is a critical care nurse and paramedic with experience in pre-hospital emergency transport medicine, hospital critical care, clinical research and drug development. During his career he has worked with data to measure and improve performance and to support clinical and operational guidelines. He resides in Austin, Texas.

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