The overused maxim “Don’t sweat the small stuff” doesn’t apply to hospitals. Because when it comes to the patient experience, the small stuff means everything.
My 18-month-old daughter recently underwent a myringotomy, which is the insertion of tiny tubes into her eardrums to treat recurrent ear infections. It is a very minor procedure—safer than driving her to the hospital in the first place, according to one pediatrician—but it requires a trip to the OR and light anesthesia, and leaving a sedated toddler in a stranger’s arms.
From the moment we arrived at the hospital, Della was treated like she was the only kid there. She received a hero’s welcome at the information desk and in the pre-surgery holding area. A nurse explained what to expect, taking care to talk to the entire family—Della, her Elmo doll, my husband, our three-year-old son and me—and took Della’s vitals with a loving, compassionate touch. Scrub nurses calmed her (and me) as she drifted off to sleep in the OR, and one put an arm around my shoulders as she walked me out of the room and told me everything would be fine.
And it was. Fifteen minutes later, Della was awake and hungry. After two sippy cups of apple juice, we headed home. Everything in our three-hour stay had gone perfectly, and every person we encountered had contributed to that.
Does this happen at every hospital? Probably not. When the small stuff—cheerful greetings, attentiveness, regular updates—is missing, the frustration and sense of helplessness patients and families feel can be indelible. I’m guessing the clinicians and staff who understand that there is so much more to health care than diagnosis and treatment are taking their cue from boardroom and C-suite behavior. So sweat the small stuff, please. It matters.