A patient and his family connect with a window visit during COVID-19 visitor restrictions.
During COVID-19, CoxHealth’s Office of Patient Experience has been creative in preserving one of the most important parts of patient care: personal connection.
While enhanced visitor restrictions protect everyone, the patient experience team has innovated to connect patients with their families. They have deployed iPads for video teleconferencing. When a ground-floor space is available, they’ve connected families with “window visits.” The patient experience team has expanded its social rounding – spending extra time with patients who have limited family support.
“It was essential for us to find new ways to support our patients and families during this unprecedented time, when it was necessary to limit visitors to keep everyone safe,” says Genny Maroc, vice president of clinical services. “The patient experience team has supported the clinical care team by finding innovative ways to help with family connections. Every member of the CoxHealth family is focused on making the patient’s experience with us the best.”
Over the last few months, the team perfected their new approaches across all CoxHealth campuses. They learned lessons that will last beyond the pandemic.
We asked three members of the patient experience team to tell us what customer service has been like in the age of COVID-19. Here’s what they had to say:
Video visits in heartbreaking times
“The video visits have created beautiful moments,” says Patient Advocate Billie Werbeck. Some of those moments have come at heartbreaking times, in critical care units or after a difficult diagnosis.
Werbeck says technology has been vital in some of the most serious cases she has seen.
She and the patient experience team recently worked with a patient who had been in the NTICU for nine days. The patient was intubated and sedated, with a difficult diagnosis.
It would have been a devastating situation in normal times, and the necessary visitor restrictions in the early days of COVID-19 made it even more difficult for the patient’s spouse and adult children.
Werbeck helped set up a virtual teleconference for the family. The patient’s husband wanted to call in, but he wasn’t sure he could handle seeing his wife on a ventilator. Werbeck did the first visit with the patient’s daughter.
“She was very taken aback and emotional when she first saw her mom,” Werbeck says. “I told her, ‘Just say what your heart tells you to say.”
The daughter spoke to her mom. The patient was able to hear her grandchildren’s voices.
Another week passed, and the patient’s daughter did a few more video calls. Doctors called in the Palliative Care team and the family to help make decisions. The outlook was “not so great,” Werbeck says. She was prepared for heartbreak.
The patient’s husband decided to try a video call, alongside his daughter. Werbeck set it up.
“When I got to her room, I was blown away by the improvements the patient had made,” she says. “The tears of joy they had on the other side of that iPad was a beautiful sound! The patient had her eyes open and she would mouth ‘I love you all.’”
They talked for about 15 minutes. The family members told Werbeck how thankful they were that CoxHealth was providing this service.
“Her husband, daughter and grandkids, were all shouting, ‘I love you’ and ‘we will see you soon.’ My eyes filled up with tears,” Werbeck says. “You can’t help but feel their emotion.”
Soon after the final call, the patient was discharged to a skilled nursing facility. Sadly, the patient passed away shortly thereafter.
“It can be overwhelming. I cannot imagine having a loved one in there being on the other side of this. I have felt more emotion personally in the last few months than I have in a long time,” Werbeck says. “I go pray for those families. I know I have done what I can do and I am so blessed to have been able to be a part of this.”
Connecting with window visits, social rounds
At Meyer Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital, Patient Experience
Consultant Mary Wilkins is connecting families with a low-tech, but effective,
approach: the window visit.
She recalls a patient who was at MORH after she had been hospitalized in St. Louis for seven weeks. The patient spent much of that time on a ventilator.
Rehab was her last stop on her way to getting home. In the meantime, her family and friends came to her.
“All her friends showed up for a window visit, cheering her on from outside, wearing shirts in support of her and holding signs!,” Wilkins says. “I could hear them running and screaming with excitement as they saw her through the window for the first time since she got sick!”
Patients are able to see groups of family and friends and chat with them by phone. Wilkins says she is organizing a few window visits per week at MORH.
“The visits have been really neat,” she says. “Patients understand why we have had restrictions, but they are thankful we have discovered other ways to handle visits.”
For patients whose families live far away, video conferencing has been a great solution.
“I think the video visits are something we should keep going forward. Family members from out of state are really enjoying them.”
Wilkins and the team have also increased the time they spend just talking with patients.
During “social rounds,” they visit at length with patients, giving patients some interaction outside of direct care and physical therapy.
“We talk about anything they want to talk about, just to give patients an outlet,” she says.
She recalls a recent patient who talked with her about his radio hobby and how COVID-19 has affected his life. They spent almost an hour together.
“It has been really impactful for me to talk with patients. I think just talking helped him get through the last few weeks in TCU.”
A personal connection is great therapy
Ginger Onyeka was working with a patient who had a stroke. He had
lost some of his motor skills and she could tell he was frustrated.
“I took some time to just sit with him and listen. He mentioned this whole process of recovery was harder not being able to see his family,” she says.
She suggested a window visit.
“The next day, I took him to the front of the hospital and he immediately perked up when he saw his wife, son, and grand-dog,” she says. “They visited and even had some laughs together. Later, back in his room, he was all smiles and shared some videos with me of his grand-dog doing tricks. Just that short visit really lifted his spirits and helped to put him in a better mindset about recovery.”
Onyeka says she has seen the therapeutic value of the visits time and time again. Patients get to see their family’s support and they get to talk about the treatment they are going through.
“You can see a change in personality and how they are handling things,” she says.
Onyeka says she has been able to reassure patients through social rounding.
“There are so many unknowns with COVID-19. You can sense when you walk into the room that people have a lot on their minds,” she says. “The phone isn’t the same as having someone there with you who is caring and listening.”
That has been especially key for patients who don’t have family support in Springfield, or at all.
“Social rounding lets you offer a bit of yourself into their day. You can show them that someone does care. That’s definitely something we should continue doing.”
All of patient experience’s innovation has been an extension of the department’s core mission.
“We want to further the lines of communication for patients. Everything we are doing lets patients see that communication with their family is important to us.”
For patients and their families, that communication can be just as vital as the clinical care we provide.
Just last week, Onyeka helped a patient see her daughter and her grandchildren with a video visit.
The patient had been unable to speak due to aphasia and was having a difficult day.
“She completely lit up when she got to see her grandsons,” Onyeka says. During the call, there was a moment when the family had finished talking to her and the patient slowly said the words, “I love you.”
“Just the emotion in that room, and from the family … wow,” Onyeka says. “Her daughter was so excited she was crying. Then mom was crying. Then, there’s me and I’m standing there holding the iPad, hiding happy tears behind my mask, too.
“Moments like these remind me of what a privilege we have to be able to take part in so many special, tender moments between patients and families.”