Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Improving Hospitals - the Small Things...

I realize this isn't going to come as a surprise to many people. No one likes the hospital, really. And, being someone who has spent a fair amount of time in them in the last few years, I would say there are some good things that hospital have done recently to improve things. But, overall, they are still an institutional setting that are not terribly attractive places to spend any amount of time, whether as a patient or as a patient's advocate/caretaker. I find there are a few things that stand out to me as problematic and possibly fixable.

First, hospitals are a place of waiting. You wait for everything. Whether you are staying overnight or just visiting a doctor or picking up a prescription - it all requires a wait it seems. It seems to me that the waiting is often happening in a space that is not very conducive to waiting. I mean, sure, they're called "waiting" rooms, but really, they might as well be called "rooms with nothing to do but read magazines no one is interested in reading, ever." Some of the recent waiting rooms I've been in lately have not even had a TV. And those that do have a TV often have a channel on that no one really cares to watch. In addition, the seating is sometimes totally uncomfortable. There never seems to be any food or drinks available without leaving, which you can't really do because you are waiting for someone or something. I just think that waiting rooms could be designed better. First of all, there should never, ever be another waiting room without a wi-fi connection. Ever...In addition, there should be some kind of snack availability. Machines that require change are a pain, but are better than nothing. I would love to have a little snack bar there with someone staffing it, or better yet, a free coffee and snack bar for those waiting. What a grand thing that would be and how much it would improve the whole hospital experience...

Second, hospitals are not very restful places. There is so much noise, so much light and so much activity at all hours. Who can recover from any illness or surgery in that atmosphere? As a person who stayed with my daughter for months while she was in the hospital, I was totally exhausted. Sometimes they try to make it a little more conducive - turning off lights and turning down the monitor noises, but it is still rather disconcerting to have people coming in and out at all hours. And when I was in the hospital post my daughter's birth, I remember the bed being horribly uncomfortable. Like a bad mattress on one of those 1970s hide-a-bed couches everyone hated to be stuck on at their relatives' house during the holidays. Why would that be a place for someone to recover and get better. I was convinced it was so I would want to get out of there ASAP. But, the combination of the noise and the constant activity and the uncomfortable bed made me constantly exhausted.

Finally, hospitals are primarily for sick people. Sick people should be put in situations that make things easier, not more difficult. My mom is in chemo right now. She is often weak and sick and just plain not feeling well. In addition, my dad has dementia and severe mobility issues. Their hospital has no valet service and usually the handicapped parking is completely full and what you can get is not that close to the entrance. They used to have valet parking, but they got rid of it. People are constantly double and triple parked, dropping people off. Others, who look completely miserable, are stuck standing out by the curb waiting for someone to come and pick them up after retrieving their car from the far-reaches of the parking lot or parking garage. There aren't even benches out near the loading zone. I think hospitals should have valet parking (our children's hospital does and Lord knows it has been a life-saver many times) and/or a shuttle to cars in the parking lot that are beyond walking distance. They could do it by page if they are concerned about able-bodied people using it. But, my mom is no longer able to go to the hospital on her own because they have made it so incredibly inconvenient for her.

Over all, hospitals are places of miracles nowadays. My daughter had a heart transplant and a valve repair and is still doing quite fantastic. My mom has had cancer multiple times, only to beat it each time with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Doctors and nurses are amazing people who do amazing work. But, hospitals, as a place, could do better. And often, it isn't the big things that matter, but the small things. A nice place to wait, some quiet and inactivity overnight, and recognition that people going to a hospital need help - valet, shuttle service, etc.

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