It’s not just altruism that has moved area hospitals toward more precise attention to patients. In fact, according to one official, the practice results in roughly equal improvements in both medical outcomes and cost controls – a true win-win for patient and provider.
At LewisGale, the perspective is building a culture of patient-first, to the extent that it becomes the unspoken expectation.
New technology and evolving standardization is transforming the healthcare industry, but the Roanoke Valley’s regional providers continue to work on improving the patient experience too.
State-of-the-art medical care can give doctors and nurses better tools to evaluate and treat a patient, for instance, but that time in the hospital or office makes up only a small fraction of that patient’s time. A personal connection may well inspire the patient to embrace his or her role in taking the next step and making changes to prevent a future visit.
Consider the story of a truck driver with diabetes, as told by Anthony Stavola, vice chair of Carilion Clinic’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.
This long-haul truck driver had to go on insulin. His troubles managing his diabetes pulled him off the road, and he eventually lost his job. The driver was forced to move in with family members and became depressed.
When he came into one of Carilion’s offices, “our medical team there – nurses, care coordinators and the physician – all got involved in working with this patient,” Stavola says. “We helped him get the medication he needed, spent time working with him on his diet and setting goals. He ended up losing weight and being able to get off the insulin. Then, because he was off insulin, he was able to get license back and go back to driving again for his company, and was then able to reconstruct his life financially.”
Some time later, the truck driver ran into one of the Carilion team in a grocery store and expressed his gratitude: “You gave me my life back.” The Carilion staffer’s response: “We didn’t give you your life back. We just helped you find it.”
The tale isn’t just a feel-good story for Carilion – it illustrates the modern-day emphasis on engaging patients in their own care. The driver didn’t just go to the doctors for help but goals to improve his diet and lifestyle.
That patient engagement is key to the modern approach to medical service, and it overlaps across the Roanoke Valley’s major healthcare providers – Carilion Clinic, LewisGale/Hospital Corporation of America and Salem VA (Veteran’s Affairs) Medical Center.
Richard Embrey, chief medical officer at LewisGale, says it’s working to measure its care quality – not just processes and outcomes, but the patient experience.
“Sometimes patients receive good medical care by the book, but they come away not feeling good,” Embrey says. “They have the feeling they were not treated as an individual or were involved as part of the care process, but that they were part of a production line and just being moved through.
To that end, LewisGale provides training to its staff not just on diagnosis and treatment but in working with patients, particularly during times of stress.
“A lot of it is leading by example,” Embrey says. “That’s a real culture thing, putting the patient first, and if you can develop the culture, then everyone who works here knows that’s the unspoken expectation.”
Carilion Clinic is likewise focusing its efforts to deliver a better experience for patients. It’s working to develop better electronic patient records that cut down on duplication – if a patient has had a test with one doctor, they don’t necessarily need to repeat it with another – and also alert medical staff when a patient has missed appointments, allowing outreach to ensure that person is getting the care they need.
Stavola says Carilion is working to adapt to its patients’ schedules. That may mean doctor’s offices that are open later into the evening or on weekends, or – as in the example of the trucker – it could be working to help ensure they implement necessary lifestyle changes.
One year ago, Carilion adopted a best practice from the Cleveland Clinic for patients at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The bedside prescription delivery brings medicine to patients without them ever having to leave the room. That may seem like a small thing, but in the discharge rush, when patients are ready to leave the hospital, making an extra stop by a pharmacy, even one in-house, can be a burdensome process.