Thursday, September 13, 2007

Five Star Medical Care with One Star Customer Service....

Recently I had back surgery at a world-renowned teaching hospital. Before the anesthesia kicked in I counted 12 professionals in the OR, including a Neuro-Surgical Tech team electronically tracking my body's every impulse. The surgery successfully removed a benign tumor in the spinal sac, with no nerve damage. I am grateful - for having health insurance, for the availability of diagnostic tests to determine so precisely what the problem was, and of course for awesome scientific advancements that make this micro-neurosurgery possible.
Then comes the low-tech hospital part of the experience. I was moved to a double in the spinal surgery unit which consisted of about 25 rooms off a long central area. Nurses dutifully come around and dispense meds, but beyond that, you are no longer the center of attention. The second night I was in the hospital, when my mind was working but my body couldn't do much, I found myself composing a blogpost about all the ways hospitals miss the mark for good customer service - the customers being the patients, of course. It was a nice way to channel my energy! Here are a few of my observations. If I Ran the Zoo, hospital designers and managers would have to lie in a bed for a day before proceeding with their jobs!

  • Clocks. Patients generally are told not to bring any valuables, and all your personal belongings are hung in a closet which a back surgery patient has no access to. So no watch. Time matters a lot to a hospital patient - for general orientation purposes, to know when your pain meds are wearing off, etc. My room had one large wall clock. When the curtain was pulled to separate the two patient areas, I could no longer see the clock. Apparently only 926A needs access to the clock; screw 926B.
  • TV Access. I hardly ever watch TV, but the last night, restless and not able to hold a book up, I experimented with the overhead TV. There were a couple of junky cable stations, plus a station featuring the head of the hospital telling patients how valued we are. But if you wanted any conventional stations (I was hoping for NPR), you have to pay an upgrade! I just saw a bill for my treatment: $68,000+ - but no decent TV unless you pony up! It is not easy to pay if you don't have a credit card at the ready, having listened to the advice of the hospital and not brought your wallet! Man, that pissed me off. My husband tells me there was a number on the TV screen to call for activation, but I figured there was no point if I didn't have a credit card.
  • Food. I probably wouldn't have eaten any food, but the offerings were astonishingly unappealing. The meal that comes to mind - the vegetarian offering - was a plate of white rice. You don't get condiments unless you order them, apparently. Like there's no connection between nutrition and healing? To go with it was a piece of pumpkin pie. I was reminded that in the developing world, hospitals do not provide meals. Patients' families encamp and provide food. Not very efficient, but I bet it has lots of psychic benefits for the patient, as well as straightforward physical benefit.
  • Call Buttons. Despite the existence of technology that could communicate a patient call instantly, the system employed is a light board. The patient presses a button and a light goes on; when staff happen to notice it, they come. My roommate waited 90 minutes to be taken to the toilet. Unreal.
This hospital did not offer a concierge upgrade package, but looking back, seems like it would have been worth looking into. I could have used someone holding my hand (once my dutiful husband had checked out for the night), serving me some food that didn't offend, and generally listening to what I was concerned about....

Fortunately I am healing well!


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear that you had surgery. Its pretty annoying that you received poor customer service in the hospital. This level of care can be common (and complained about) in the UK, but I always figured that you got what you paid for.

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of requiring hospital administrators be patients before they decide on how they will provide service!

LJNDawson said...

You might also want to spread the word on, a website for reviews of products and stores that you really like (or really hate). It's at, and it's very easy and rather cathartic.