Arden Brion, Root’s managing director of healthcare, enjoys helping healthcare organizations engage their workforces in the execution of strategies. He also has personal experience in multiple facets of healthcare – he’s been a caregiver to an elderly parent with a terminal disease and is a survivor of a rare, life-threatening condition of the aorta. He shares his unique perspective with us today and sheds light on how – despite preconceived notions and a host of challenges – the healthcare industry provides excellent care in many ways.
Tell us about your experience with the healthcare system from the point of view as a patient who went through a life-threatening clinical situation.
AB: In January 2013, I experienced an acute ascending aortic dissection while on a business trip to Delaware. This is rare and incredibly serious, with a very low survival rate. Despite the severity of my condition, I survived because of the exceptional care I received from two healthcare providers. From the transportation to the first hospital (Saint Francis, a community hospital in Wilmington, Delaware) to being airlifted and treated at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, I experienced exceptional safety, quality and service from both providers.
I was brought into Saint Francis Emergency Department in extreme pain in my chest and left hip, and my right arm. I was not sure if I was having a heart attack or stroke. A multi-disciplinary team began working immediately to save my life. Looking back at my experience, here are a few insights I can share.
First, St. Francis staff treated me as a person – not just a patient. They didn’t assume they knew what I needed … they asked me. Despite my condition, I felt respected. This was quite contrary to what I had anticipated.
Second, the staff took time to offer spiritual comfort. When I was told it was appropriate to make my end of life calls, two nurses came to me and asked if I needed a priest and if they could pray for me. This respect for a dying patient’s spiritual needs comforted me.
Finally, they understood their limitations. Although Saint Francis offers cardiovascular services, my doctor quickly recognized the severity and complexity of my condition could be treated more effectively by specialists at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. This decision saved my life.
The transportation to the second hospital was also amazing, as the lifeflight team did their best to make me comfortable – even helping me record what I thought was my last message to my family. When I arrived, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania surgical team was ready. As I was introduced to the surgeon, I asked for a Do Not Resuscitate order if blood flow to my brain was disrupted by more than five minutes. Instead of dismissing me, the surgeon asked me to allow a longer time period. He listened to my reasoning and urged me to give him more time. When I asked why, he simply said, “Because we’re really good here!” This was another example of great patient experience. Even in a life-threatening situation, when seconds were critical, the care team took the time explain what was happening, to engage in my own care, and to help me make a better decision. My physician at HUP was a great surgeon, but he was also a great caregiver, and he didn’t allow the former point to relieve him of his obligations as the latter.
The excellent care didn’t end there. I was also impressed with my care in the step-down unit and at discharge. Each staff member treated me with importance and respect. During shift changes, the nurses would meet at the foot of my bed and discuss my status – including me in that conversation. I always had a voice. They were not just talking about me as a patient – they were talking with me.
This experience gave me some insights that caregivers, who are constantly under stress to produce great results, really appreciate empathy from their patients. I developed a theory that by empathizing with their caregivers, patients could only increase the quality of care they could receive. As patients, instead of feeling anxiety that we won’t get the best treatment, it may help to empathize with our caregivers. I believe it can help create the most positive results for everyone.
Now, when it comes to taking care of an elderly parent, what have been your positive and negative experiences?
AB: My wife and I took care of my mother who had a terminal disease. During this experience with many physician offices and hospice, I realized that again, the healthcare system can work well. But, as a caregiver, a couple of things became clear to me:
When a parent or loved one is dying and facing a debilitating illness, they need a champion – someone to manage their care because often they are paralyzed by fear and can’t process information as well. Additionally, people with chronic conditions can have multiple physicians – and there’s likely no coordination among them.
That’s where the caregiver comes in – doing the research, learning the protocols and keeping track of each physician’s plans. For me, having my wife or me at every appointment made it clear to my mother’s doctors that we were serious about making sure she received the best care. And we weren’t shy about taking notes or asking doctors or nurses to repeat information we did not understand. This is another important part of the patient experience: making sure the patient, or their caregiver at home, understands their role in the process and is able to participate fully in the conversation.
I also realized that for the most part, people are intimidated to have open, honest discussions with their doctors because they’re afraid of upsetting the doctor and receiving poorer care as a result. But, if you speak frankly, they’ll respond appropriately. Providers can help by ensuring that patients and caregivers know they are encouraged to speak up, and by taking the time to respond to questions thoroughly.
From a professional standpoint, what is your view of the healthcare industry and its treatment of patients?
AB: From my experience as a patient and a caregiver, I believe most healthcare providers want to serve patients in the best ways possible, and despite many challenges and obstacles, they provide excellent care for the most part. But I also believe that patients and families who participate as informed partners in the process also help improve their care.
Yes, people do have bad experiences. But once you consider the different situations a doctor or nurse face in a day – and think about the complexity of those scenarios – you realize how overwhelming it can be. Even so, their stress can’t filter into the patient experience. We need healthcare providers to think of each patient as their loved one. They need to give the type of care they’d want their loved ones to receive. From my perspective, I believe leaders can make all the difference. Leaders are responsible for ensuring their staff remembers that caring for people is the reason they became caregivers. After all, it’s what their noble calling is all about.