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January 25, 2023
David Burda
Consumerism Outcomes System Dynamics
4-Minute 4sight Blogs

Walking Healthcare’s Green Mile

I almost died two weeks ago. Of laughter.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I had to reschedule my annual visit with my cardiologist. Rather than waiting for another appointment to open up sometime in the next decade, I rescheduled it with a nurse practitioner in the same cardiology practice.

I was in the waiting room waiting for the staff to call me into an exam room for my visit with the NP. The waiting room was almost empty. Only one other patient was there.

The automatic door to the waiting room opened and in walked an older gentleman. Nicely dressed. I’m guessing he was in his mid-to-late 80s. He walked in very slowly with the help of a cane. Kind of like that “oldest man” character who comedian Tim Conway played on The Carol Burnett Show years ago.

A member of the practice staff sitting behind the desk and one of those plexiglass desk shields asked him: “Hi, Mr. (so-and-so). How are you doing?”

The man responded, “Walking the green mile, ladies. Walking the green mile.”

I almost lost it.

As you know, the expression “walking the green mile” comes from the movie “The Green Mile” in which the hallway floor that condemned prisoners walk on from their cells to the execution chamber is green. You’re on your way to meet your fate, and your fate isn’t promising.

I don’t know if the guy at the clinic meant that he’s on his last lap in life or that he was walking into his doctor’s office expecting bad news. I think he meant the former because of the way he delivered the line. Either way, it was hysterical. Everyone behind the desk was laughing. I was laughing. The other patient — a wheelchair-bound man on oxygen and suffering from Parkinson’s — was cracking up, too.

It was the first thing I told my wife when I got home after she asked, “How did it go?” By the way, the NP was terrific, and I’m healthy enough that I don’t have to come back for another year.

That moment in the waiting room changed the entire experience. I was happy. The other patient was happy. The office staff was happy. And even though Mr. So-and-So said he was walking the green mile, he was happy.

That’s the opposite of what we feel most of the time in healthcare today. Physicians are burned out. Nurses are overworked and underappreciated. Executives are stressed out. Patients are frustrated. No one’s happy.

That’s pretty much the takeaway from the 2023 Healthcare Experience Trends Report from Qualtrics. Qualtrics is a healthcare experience improvement firm, so take the results for what they’re worth. If everyone were happy, Qualtrics would be out of business.

The report is based on surveys of about 3,000 healthcare employees and 7,000 healthcare consumers. The report compared the results of those surveys with the results of similar surveys of employees and consumers in nearly 30 other global industries. Here are some of the unhappy results:

  • 74 percent of consumers said they are satisfied with their healthcare provider experiences compared with 77 percent who said the same thing about their experiences in other industries.
  • 61 percent of consumers said healthcare providers need to do a better job of listening to their feedback.
  • 52 percent of healthcare employees said they believe they’re paid fairly for the work they do, which was the lowest percentage of all other industries.
  • 33 percent of healthcare employees said their work experiences meet their work expectations compared with 39 percent who said the same thing about their jobs in other industries.

The question is, how will healthcare change the direction of these arrows?

One answer is hire a company like Qualtrics or another patient satisfaction or experience firm or a one that specializes in employee engagement or workforce and/or workplace improvement.

Or, and likely cheaper, you can hire Mr. (So-and-so). Have him walk into your waiting rooms, physician lounges, executive suites, IT departments and nursing stations and have him share some of his gallows humor. He’ll turn things around in a heartbeat.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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