The Importance of the Culture of Caring

Last year my father was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors devised a treatment plan, which included chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As a caregiver, I had to take my father to the hospital for his radiation sessions. I opted for an early morning slot, which would have us in the hospital at around 7 every morning. I would drive up to the porch of the hospital, find a wheel-chair, get him on the chair, leave him for a while to go and park my car and would wheel him over to the radiation department for his sessions to commence. While, the hospital employed General Duty Assistants (GDA’s), who would normally wheel patients around the hospital, their duty hours began from 8 in the morning. My routine lasted only a couple of days as I soon discovered helpful hospital security staff, who would happily wheel my father as I went to park my car.

This simple act of caring and kindness spoke eloquently about this hospital’s shared culture. Here, even the security guard at the hospital’s door exhibited behaviour, which showed that he and the hospital cared. Thus to me, he repeatedly demonstrated that in the life of the hospital, it is not only the medical folks, the doctors, the nurses and the paramedics that deliver care, it can almost be anyone.

I believe for a hospital to be successful, it is imperative it has a culture of ”caring” ingrained in its very DNA. A hospital apart from being a repository of cutting edge technology, monumental medical knowledge and expertise must essentially be a caring institution. It is true that one goes to a hospital only when laid low by a debilitating illness, that one often needs the high-end diagnostics and surgical technology that modern hospitals are crammed with, the fact remains that more than anything else, one craves for great care during this period of uncertainty.

This is largely because most patients do not understand the intricacies of their scans or the technical difficulties of their surgeries, what they do understand are simple gestures of caring and support at a difficult time in their lives.

Healthcare organisations must aim to build a distinct culture of caring. This is far easier said than done. A culture of caring must flow from the top. Every individual in the organisation must understand that aside from whatever role they have in the hospital, the biggest role that they all have is to care for the patients in the hospital. The medical folks of course grasp this naturally, they are trained to care for their patients and they are also at the forefront of the delivery of care in the hospitals. However, it is not all that easy for others. The senior management team of the hospital, must ensure that there is clear communication down the line to everyone that they have a role to play in patient care.

The hospital leadership team should also step up and demonstrate their roles in patient care. The hospital policies formulated by the leadership team should have patient care policies right at its core. The patient care initiatives should be highlighted and communicated often, and those who go the extra mile in caring for the patients should be recognized and rewarded without hesitation.

Everyone who works in the hospital should fully understand what is expected of them vis-a-vis patient care. The folks at the front office should know that they must speak with the patients politely, demonstrate caring by helping and guiding patients to various part of the hospital. The F&B service should understand that they can demonstrate care by ensuring that the food served is piping hot, tastefully presented, delivered on time and served with a smile. An extra portion of desert for a patient with a sweet tooth (and of course no Diabetes!) will also help demonstrate patient care. The house-keeping detail too can underline care by keeping the room spick and span and by dusting the corners and those hard to reach places, that hide many unseen specs of dirt.

The most important element in building a culture of caring in the hospital is by communicating. Nothing showcases the culture of caring better than a little chat, whether it is the doctor stopping by for one after her rounds, or a nurse delivering a message of hope as she goes about her work. A GDA can demonstrate care by engaging with the patient as he wheels him around the hospital, a billing clerk can do so by explaining the components of the bill and listening to patients, who believe they have been over-charged and even a valet parking service attendant can demonstrate caring by bringing over a shiny car, when the one he received from the patient was caked with dirt.

A culture of caring is also rooted in a culture of empowerment. As far as patient care goes, every individual in the hospital should be empowered to act and help deliver great care. There should be no ifs and buts here and those so empowered must clearly know, without an iota of doubt that as long as their actions  result in better patient care, they will only be appreciated.

All good hospitals know that their success and even their profits are derived from the care that they deliver. A culture of caring and empathy must be a  hospitals most cherished and enduring asset. Unlike everything else, it can not be bought, it has to be built, brick by brick, over a long period of time and then it has to be zealously guarded from complacency, which often is, ironically a by-product of the hospital’s success.