Thursday, September 25, 2014

Engaging with the patient’s relatives

One of the reasons I really like the Narayan Hrudalaya Caregiver program is that it highlights the important role which the patient's relatives can play in a hospital setting , if empowered to do so.

The one group of people who constitute the majority within a hospital is not the medical staff or the patients - it's actually the patient's relatives , friends and caregivers . This is an enormously important group – not just because they pay the bills, but simply by virtue of their large numbers . They have potential for doing so much good - as well is doing so much harm. Thus, if they perceive that the patient is not receiving timely medical care ; or that the medical staff is rude or unavailable, it is these people who can beat up the doctors and burn down the hospital.

On the other hand, when the hospital does a remarkable job at providing high quality medical care, these are the same people who spread the message about how good the hospital is and how good its doctors are . Word of mouth marketing is very powerful, and these delighted relatives are great ambassadors for the hospital.

It’s high time hospital staff started respecting the patient's relatives , and made good use of them - not only to prevent problems from occurring , but also to ensure patients get the best possible medical care. This is a captive population which is stuck in hospital because their patient is ill. It’s such a shame that instead of making use of their goodwill and intellect, they are treated so shabbily today in most hospitals.

Most hospitals have fixed visiting hours , and relatives are made to feel unwelcome, rather than being treated as respected guests. They do not have easy access to the doctor, and often have to wait for hours to see him to get answers to even their basic queries..

There are  two important things hospitals can do to engage the patient’s family.

They can help to educate relatives about the medical care which is being provided to the patient , so they understand what's going on . Family members are understandably worried and concerned , and the more the hospital takes them into confidence and uses them as allies , the better the care they can provide. It’s equally important to explain to them what needs to be done after discharge, thus reducing post discharge complications and readmissions.

Secondly, when relatives are in a hospital, they are extremely aware of their own mortality. They are much more receptive to messages on health education and preventive health care , and hospitals can tap into this and use this opportunity to teach the entire community about what they can do to stop themselves from falling ill.

It makes a lot of business sense for hospitals to invest in educating patient's relatives . This offers an excellent return on investment . It is simple and inexpensive to do , and it provides great word-of-mouth marketing . If the relative is impressed with the quality of medical care their patient is receiving, then when they fall ill, this is the hospital they are likely to select when they need medical care themselves , because they are likely to have a soft corner for that particular hospital , and actually seek it out . It makes much more sense for hospital marketing departments to market to the relatives, friends and visitors within the four walls of their hospital , rather than waste money by trying to bribe doctors to refer patients to them.

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