It’s an image we’ve all come to dread. A patient is lying alone in a hospital bed. Maybe she is COVID-positive. Maybe she is here because of complications from another condition. She has no loved ones around her – and no hope of visitors, given the restrictive policies designed to keep her, her fellow patients, and the hospital staff safe from infection. She feels lonely and isolated.
But then the phone rings. She picks it up and a warm, caring voice asks her how she’s doing today. It’s the same person who called yesterday, asking about her comfort and well-being. She feels a genuine connection with this person who seems to understand what it means to be in a hospital room scared and alone.
She shares how she’s been feeling – that it’s hard to be in the hospital right now, but that the nursing team is amazing. They always ask what else they can do for her, even though she knows they must be busy.
She shares that the food service has been outstanding, but she wonders if it’s possible to get an orange instead of an apple with her next meal. Her teeth are bothering her and oranges are just easier to eat. The person on the phone assures her that she will make her request known.
They talk back and forth for a little while longer, and before ending the call, the person asks her, “Would you like me to call again tomorrow?”
“Oh, yes, please,” she answers. “You’ve been such a comfort to me.”
They end the call and a quiet smile plays across the patient’s face. She closes her eyes and drifts to sleep, catching up on the rest and healing that her nerves had robbed her of earlier that morning. Miles away, a smile spreads across the face of the team member, knowing she’s made a difference.
Like many health systems, The University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) instituted a patient rounding program long before COVID-19 changed the healthcare landscape. The purpose was to have leaders connect with patients daily to make sure they were comfortable, answer questions, and add an additional human touch to their hospital stay.
Rather than pausing the program due to COVID-19 infection control provisions, the UCM Patient Experience and Engagement Program (PEEP) team shifted to virtual, phone-based rounding.
“Recovering starts right here, right now,” explained Sue Murphy, RN, BSN, MS, chief experience officer at UCM. “Everyone who steps into the hospital right now is experiencing stress. These connections are healing.”
By creating a virtual human connection with patients, PEEP team members are helping to minimize the emotional stress and toll of isolation. That means these connections assist in patients’ recovery. And care team members are bolstered knowing they’re not the only ones taking care of patients’ well-being.
UCM’s leader rounding has always been based on a close partnership between clinical team members and the PEEP team members. Prior to the outbreak, PEEP team members attended huddles and worked with clinical, environmental services (EVS), dietary, and other leaders to use data collected via the Vocera Care Experience (VCE) platform to identify and solve systemic issues in partnership.
With the foundation of the program already in place, the PEEP team was able to quickly pivot to support patients and team members under the new visitation restrictions. “We’re not necessarily talking to patients about their care, diagnosis, or pain management like we were before,” explained Sunitha Sastry, MPH, director, experience improvement and innovation. “We’re connecting as a human being. We’re creating conversations and personal moments.”
In partnership with their VCE support team at Vocera, the PEEP team quickly devised new conversation guidelines focused on human connection – reminders such as listening without interrupting and focusing on the positive. They also changed some of their service recovery protocols. EVS and dietary requests continue to route directly to those departments via the VCE platform, but nursing follow ups are managed via direct emails between PEEP team members and nurse leaders. This enables appropriate follow ups with personal support in recognition of the burden nurses are carrying while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. The PEEP team members also make sure all recognition and kudos get to teams as quickly as possible.
As a result of conversations with patients, the PEEP team identified early issues such as patients forgetting phone chargers that they can solve (the PEEP team bought chargers in bulk and made them available on clinical units so patients can stay in touch with their families).
Any problem the PEEP team can solve is one less thing for the care team to worry about, and one more way to ensure that UCM’s patients are cared for in the best way possible, even under difficult circumstances.
It’s the human connections that mean the most. “For both patients and team members, they are seeing that they are not alone,” said Ms. Sastry. “And that’s how healing starts to happen,” added Ms. Murphy.