In a children’s healthcare setting, studies show that patients and families are typically satisfied with their clinical care. For children’s hospitals focused on creating the best experiences for both child and caregiver, improving the smaller, non-clinical moments can distinguish one children’s healthcare organization over another.
In many cases, Compass One Healthcare's services can help children's hospitals address pain points in their healthcare delivery process that directly improve the patient and family experience. Through our journey mapping research, we also uncovered other areas of opportunity children’s hospitals should consider. In a study performed at a large children's hospital in the southeast, we discovered three key areas children’s hospitals can address to improve the patient and family experience.
How to Improve the Children's Healthcare Experience: Time, Empathy and Communication
Make waiting time more fun with welcome distractions that are inclusive for all ages
For many families, waiting is no easy feat. Children can be challenging to entertain in a clinical environment, especially when they're not feeling well. Enhance the patient and family experience by providing toys or games that can make waiting a little less painful for both the caregiver and kiddo. Don't forget that if a waiting area accommodates a wide range of ages, so should the toys. Findings from our study indicated that parents notice when there are age-appropriate toys available for their child's age group. Show kids and their parents that you thought of them when you designed each space in your hospital. When you do, it communicates you understand the struggles they're facing.
Fast-track the check-in process, and speed up check-out procedures
Checking-in and checking-out are the bookends of a child and their family's experience at your hospital. While there are so many positive interactions that happen in between, these two defining points in time are “must-get-right" moments. Explore technology, pre-check-in options, and other solutions to improve the check-in and check-out process at your hospital. After admitting a patient, provide as much time as possible with the child and their family.
Coordinate and collaborate with patient transportation and environmental services
While support services can't change your hospital's specific check-in or check-out process, we do recommend involving your hospital's patient transportation (PT) and environmental services (EVS) departments in any plans to optimize these experiences. Coordinating admissions, nursing, PT, and EVS can help improve patient flow and decrease turn over time for patient rooms. Downstream, this means less patient frustration, higher patient satisfaction, and improved revenue due to optimized equipment utility.
Coach nurses to be intentional with their language
While your team does everything they can to improve environmental factors that communicate, you understand their experience, also encourage nurses to be intentional with their words. One small adjustment to nurse scripting helped Children's Hospital of Philadelphia increased their Overall Top Box scores by more than 15 percentage points. Nurses began asking patients and caregivers, "Is there anything I can get for you right now?" instead of "Let me know if you need anything" upon leaving a room. This small adjustment showed patients and their support systems that they took the time to listen and genuinely cared.
Make patient and family experiences as simple as possible
Even with the best clinical care, children's hospitals can unknowingly create or maintain obstacles for patients and their families during routine or unplanned visits. Let's say a mom is trying to navigate the halls of your hospital with multiple children and bags to go to the restroom. As if that wasn't challenging on its own, this common scenario can become an even bigger struggle if:
- The bathroom doesn't have a changing table.
- The changing room isn't accessible to children (or caregivers) with special needs.
- The exam rooms and bathrooms aren't wide enough to accommodate an extra-large wheelchair.
Make sure your hospital indicates which restrooms have changing tables and which do not. Use signage also to clarify which rooms are accessible for people with special needs or extra-large wheelchairs.
Think ahead for caregivers who rushed to your hospital
Except for routine visits, caregivers don't plan to visit your hospital. In a rush, they often forget or don't think to pack necessities like baby formula, diapers, hygiene products, snacks, and more. This can create even more distress for families, especially if securing those basics would require that they leave their child's bedside. Stock essentials for caregivers who accidentally leave essential items behind.
In addition to applying these takeaways from our research, also try navigating the situational, cognitive, and physical limitations that individuals face when visiting your hospital for even more specific insights.
If your hospital has multiple locations, make signage consistent across all of them
For patients and caregivers who visit various locations, consistent signage helps them navigate your facility with greater ease - even if they might be less familiar with one site over another. Pushing consistent signage and other visual forms of communication like room status indicators also benefits clinical staff. If nurses rotate between locations within your health system, standardizing room status systems can ensure no one wastes time guessing if a room is ready for a new patient or not.
Keep caregivers looped in
Some caregivers want to know everything about their child's condition. This means hearing both positive and negative updates and including them in rounds and discussions. If a caregiver isn't able to be a part of a conversation about their child's health, even if there is no new news, they are still likely to want updates from the care team to confirm nothing has changed. In our study, we observed a parent ask a nurse for the results of their child's flu swab. The nurse mentioned that if they hadn't heard anything, it was probably negative, but the mom wanted to hear back, even if it was negative, to know for sure. In children's hospitals, air on the side of over-communicating.
Coach clinical staff to value caregiver input and speak compassionately
Even if a child's clinical care is satisfactory, if clinical staff appear to be closed to caregiver input, the overall experience suffers. In general, caregivers feel they know what their child usually is like, so they expect physicians and nurses to take them seriously when they mention something seems off. While many children's family members don't have medical experience, they have long-term experience with their child's conditions, especially if it's a chronic condition. Coach clinical staff to be exceedingly gracious in their explanations of conditions to avoid appearing condescending.
As the food and support services provider for seven of the ten top Children's Hospitals*, and many others across the country, we know children's hospitals are different. We also understand your children's hospital's path to improving patient and caregiver experience will look different from others because your hospital is unique. Weaving a focus on time, empathy, and communication into your hospital's unique approach to improving patient and caregiver experience can help you continue to advance your hospital's healing mission.