Since writing a cancer memoir in 2000, I've given talks at more than 150 hospitals and oncology clinics. I learned that many centers and clinics invest far more in their coffee stations, light airy infusion rooms and brochures than on the basics that make a difference to patients.
If cancer centers truly want to improve the patient experience, here are 17 questions clinic managers might want to ask themselves:
- How long do you make patients wait for scan results? There are few things in life more challenging than waiting to find out if you're going to die soon. Every extra hour of waiting for results is excruciating.
- How long must patients wait after arriving for a routine visit? A patient shouldn't wait for more than 15 minutes without a transparent explanation. Long delays signal staffing shortages and communicate to educated patients that the care is likely to be delivered by harried and possibly burned-out professionals.
- Are there engaging distractions in waiting rooms? It's emotionally challenging to wait for chemotherapy that's sure to make us feel as if we've been run over by an absent-minded trolley driver. Patient-centered clinics for adults should have distracting amenities, which in today's world means open access for Internet and smartphone connections.
- Do you treat patients like individuals? If a patient can get through an entire clinic visit without any staff addressing them by name, there's a problem.
- What is the energy in the clinic? Patients can sense clinics with good morale through the casual banter. In clinics with poor morale, staff don't speak to one another except when necessary. Patients can mistakenly interpret silence as indicating something ominous.
- Do oncologists ask about the costs of care? Research reveals that patients are eager to talk about costs but rarely bring it up unless physicians ask. Most patients worry about costs and far too few health professionals address the issue directly.
- Does the clinic track routine mistakes? Oncology clinics should teach staff to track mistakes and address those that impact patients. Even simple mistakes should be acknowledged and disclosed.