I almost felt bad for taking a harsh tone with the woman on the other end of the phone. Almost.
"I've called 19 people today. You're the 15th to yell at me," she said, her voice quivering. "We only staff this phone a few hours a day and never on Fridays."
The explanation was of little comfort to me that Saturday afternoon. I had been waiting for two-and-a-half days for someone anyone from the emergency department to call with my lab test results.
"We only call if the results are positive; your results were negative," she said.
"Don't you think that's something patients should know before they are sent home? No one told me that, so instead I sat around for two days wondering, worrying," I angrily responded. (Unfortunately, the person who has the least amount of control over organizational processes typically gets the brunt of our frustration, no matter the situation.)
Let's back up a bit. I awoke one Tuesday morning last month with severe muscle pain throughout my body. This wasn't a minor ache or even something you get with the flu no, it was deep muscle pain and weakness. Every movement hurt. I needed to use two hands to squeeze the toothpaste tube. Tying shoes? Forget it.
That night, I had a fever of 100-something. So on Wednesday morning, on orders from my wife, I called my doctor. As luck would have it, he was out of the country. The covering doc sent me to the ED.
My wife drove me to one of Chicago's highly regarded teaching hospitals. I was triaged immediately, but then waited three hours before being called back to a room where a resident did an assessment. Two more hours passed before I saw the attending (the resident had left for the day). No one came in to give me water or hydrate me and only once did I get an explanation that the delay was in the lab. Even more hours passed before some results trickled in. My numbers looked normal. After eight hours, I was sent home even though two lab tests still hung out there.
I get it. It was a busy day. Three gunshot victims came in during my eight hours. Patient beds were lined up in the hall. Still, it's frustrating. Month after month we write about hospitals that have retooled processes to get them right. In this issue, we have a story about hospitals that dramatically reduced HAIs. We take a look at a national program to boost patient engagement. And, we profile hospitals that are leading the charge to close the gap in trauma care.
The hospital I visited? It's appeared in these pages before. We've profiled its efforts to adopt best practices and improve patient care. That's partly why I was so angry; I know that there's a better way.
Would I have had a different experience elsewhere? Perhaps. Still, we can't lose sight of the fact that the patient experience has taken on greater relevance. It has bearing on Medicare reimbursement. More importantly, in a highly competitive environment, it weighs heavily on consumer choice. I can tell you that this experience has led me reconsider my options. And what about the other 14 people who yelled at that poor woman? Will they be back?
By the way, the virus ran its course and now I can tie my shoes.
Let me know what you think. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org