How hospitals are improving the patient experience

At Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the facility's maternity ward provides perks for new parents, such as champagne with chocolate-covered strawberries to celebrate the birth of the baby. And new parents get the option of having a "date night" with a candlelit dinner at the facility while staffers take care of the infant.

"It is important for every organization that serves the public to give the customer their best possible service," says Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association. "For a hospital, it is more than just a business imperative. Hospitals and other health care providers have a special role of serving patients and their families at some of the most challenging and critical times of their lives. Creating a soothing environment; engaging patients and family members in care decisions; enabling patients to have the support of family members and other loved ones at these times of great stress and ensuring they feel supported, informed and engaged is not only the right thing to do, it has been shown to promote healing."

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Improving the patient experience helps promote healing and makes good business sense, says Joe Leggio, director of patient and customer experience at Lenox Hill. "We've created certain experiences and amenities because our patients have asked for them," Leggio says. Patients provide input on what they'd like during their hospital stay in focus groups commissioned by Lenox Hill. "We try to give them what they want," Leggio says. "Health care is a world in which a lot of things are out of our control. One thing in our control is how we make people feel. If your mental state is good, that affects your physical state in a positive way. It's easy to be sad and depressed while you're at a hospital. If we can elevate your mood, you'll rest more, which will help you heal faster and be discharged sooner."

Providing positive experiences for patients is also good for the hospital's financial health, Leggio says. The health care field is highly competitive, and people who feel good about their hospital stay are more likely to recommend the facility that treated them. "People talk about their experiences, where they feel safe and cared for," Leggio says.

Changing the Physical Environment

In Utah, Intermountain Healthcare is developing pilot rooms designed to give patients more control over their stay. The rooms, scheduled to debut in 2017, will be equipped with an electronic tablet that lets patients control their room temperature, summon a nurse or watch a video about their diagnosis and treatment. "It's a way to give patients some sense of control over their physical environment and access to information they need about their diagnosis," says Katy Jo Stevens, director of patient information at Intermountain, which has 22 hospitals in the state.

At Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District of Columbia, Yoko Sen, an artist and musician, designed a "tranquility room" while working with the hospital's innovative hub – a team of technology experts, product designers, engineers and Sibley clinicians who develop ways to make the hospital work better for patients and staff. The room features soothing music, aromatherapy and images of stars projected onto the privacy curtain that is standard in all patient rooms. The room is available for nurses and other staffers to use to relax; the idea is that if clinicians are well-rested, they will provide better care, hospital officials say. In the next year or so, Sibley officials plan on providing a cart or portable box to patients so they can create their own version of the tranquility room. The kit would include a laptop or tablet to project images of stars, the Northern lights or running water. Sibley officials say they believe the tranquility room could help patients feel more relaxed, which would improve their mood and promote healing.

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Art Therapy

At the 634-bed Lenox Hill Hospital, officials provide art and music therapy for patients. Studies have shown that art therapy, such as drawing and painting, can help relieve pain in pediatric cancer patients.

At Lenox Hill, volunteers take art carts to any patient who requests one, Leggio says. Patients can use the cart to make beads and bracelets, which can be therapeutic, he says.

Lenox Hill also provides volunteer musicians, usually five days a week, depending on availability. These musicians use acoustic guitars and harps to play music for patients. "It's in such high demand, we try to have as many volunteers lined up as possible," Leggio says. And it's not just pleasant to listen to: One study, published in 2014 in the journal Cancer, found music therapy was beneficial to young adults and adolescents undergoing cancer treatment. The therapy, which included writing song lyrics and producing videos, boosted patients' resilience and ability to cope, the study found.

"It's very important for us to truly welcome people into our facility and make them feel safe, calm and cared for," Leggio says. "We're not a hotel, a luxury restaurant or resort, but we want to be pulling a page from each of their books to enhance our patients' experience here."

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Dying Wishes

Many hospitals have set up unofficial and official weddings inside their facilities for terminally ill patients. This month, staffers at Baptist St. Anthony's Hospital in Amarillo, Texas, organized a wedding for a man who was dying of leukemia. Hospital staff obtained a marriage license, and the Baptist St. Anthony chaplain officiated the wedding. The patient, who got married as he lay in his hospital bed, died 36 hours later.

In July, nurses at The Children's Hospital at Saint Francis in Tulsa, Oklahoma, quickly lined up a pastor, photographer and wedding planner after a teenager who was dying of bone cancer proposed to his girlfriend. The teenager died in September.

About a year and a half ago, at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, staff members fulfilled the dying wish of a terminally ill cancer patient who wanted to marry his longtime girlfriend. Hospital staffers arranged for him to celebrate an unofficial wedding ceremony inside the 218-bed facility. They filled a charting room in the oncology wing with flowers and provided the bride with a bouquet and veil, says Charlene Freeman, public relations director at the hospital. The patient died within about 10 days of the ceremony, and his family members were grateful the hospital allowed him and his girlfriend to "solidify their love," Freeman says. Weeks later, relatives of the groom shared photos of the ceremony with hospital staff members, along with a note saying how much they appreciated the event and how much it meant to have his last wish fulfilled.

A Commitment to Innovation

Thousands of hospitals nationwide have teams devoted to finding innovative ways to improve patient care and clinical work, according to a spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association. The Innovation Acceleration Program at Boston Children's Hospital, for example, provides the facility's employees a platform to come up with ideas to improve health care and make it safer and less costly.

Developing ideas to improve the patient experience is a high priority for Richard "Chip" Davis, president and chief executive officer at Sibley Memorial. The hospital's innovation hub team works in a spacious room that once held hospital records. To stimulate a "culture of innovation," Davis encourages Sibley's 2,200 employees – from maintenance workers and orderlies to nurses and doctors – to contribute ideas on how to improve the hospital experience. For example, a nurse developed a miniature replica of the operating room to help fellow nurses practice how to efficiently switch out instruments between operations. The operating room works on a tight schedule, and hospital officials don't have much opportunity to use it for such training, says Nick Dawson, executive director of the training hub. Davis also asks patients, their loved ones and people who live in the community for input.

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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