Steve Lovell treasures the infusion receptionist’s smile. Laurel Rech appreciates that her daughter’s oncologist always addressed her 12-year-old first when walking into the room, making her feel valued. Lesley Buck likes the warm blanket that staff offer her adult son, a sickle cell patient.
It won’t come as a surprise that patients say they are drawn to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for its physicians’ expertise in treating disease. But they stay because of the relationships, big and small, that they forge with people in the clinic — from their doctors to the cafeteria worker who smiles at them.
It’s Patient Experience Week at SCCA, an opportunity for providers and staff to reflect on their interactions with patients. Lovell, a former patient, and caregivers Rech and Buck participated in one of four patient panels held this week in the clinic. Typically held as part of New Employee Orientation, these panels give patients and those who support them a chance to offer feedback and guidance about the kind of care they want to receive.
“Every person here can make a difference with patients, whether you see them clinically or not,” says Steve Lovell, 61, who received a bone marrow transplant at SCCA in 2010. “Holding the door to the elevator and saying hi creates an atmosphere that welcomes patients and makes them feel they will be well taken care of.”
He recalls waiting in line in the infusion area to check in and pick up his pager, feeling down, when the receptionist smiled and greeted him by name. “I was so shocked,” he said. “She saw a million people each day. Even though I felt bad, that one little connection said, ‘You are a person and not just a number.’”
Tiffany Go, a patient experience specialist at SCCA, is proud to hear how that staff member shaped Lovell’s experience that day. It reinforces what she already knows: "Every action you take at SCCA impacts the patient,” says Go.
The Patient Experience team helps facilitate the Patient and Family Advisory Council which consists of 16 advisors who meet monthly to provide feedback on their experience at SCCA. A Patient and Family Advisor Program is also offered on an opt-in basis.
"The patient experience is why we’re here,” says Go. "Patients are at the core of SCCA. Their experiences matter."
Patients and caregivers value personalized attention. Buck’s son, Ryan, “melts into the chair” when he’s offered a warm blanket during appointments. It’s a small but meaningful gesture that has helped Ryan transition from Seattle Children’s to SCCA. When Ryan first made the switch, he and his mother were upset that Ryan, who has learning disabilities, was expected to take responsibility for his care as an adult. Ryan, 26, doesn’t fully understand the complexity of his disease, says his mother, and he wasn’t able to handle making his appointments. Buck spoke with a social worker at SCCA, who helped accommodate Ryan’s special needs. “She did two things: she apologized and she said, ‘We will take care of this.’”
It’s that commitment and sense of caring that matters to patients. They value evidence-based treatment plans, but they also want their providers to talk to them about how they’re feeling. When Rech’s daughter, Louisa, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent transplant, Rech appreciated the printout of Louisa’s labs, but she and her daughter most appreciated the human connection. “The times that work best are when the doctor or nurse stops and takes time to understand what’s going on,” says Rech.
Those bonds pay off, says Rech. “When Louisa came off immunosuppression, the first thing she wanted to do was hug her doctor — not me, but her doctor.”