Kenneth L. Hardin: Treat your healthcare like dining out

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 15, 2023

By Kenneth L. Hardin

I’ve dined out at restaurants with difficult folks who’ve made waitresses think they’ve been transported back to 1974 and starring in that famous Burger King ad singing, “… Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way.” I’ve  witnessed people ask for their food to be cooked a certain way with specific instructions on what to include and what to put on the side. They’ll assert their right to have their food prepared as they prefer like it’s a constitutional guarantee. If their demands are not adhered to, they’ll threaten them with a feared low rating online. What baffles me is that in my nearly a quarter of a century working in healthcare leadership advocacy roles, I’ve seen the same people acquiesce and throw their hands up in defeat when it comes to demanding the same level of attention to detail with their health when they’re in hospitals.

I’ve seen people take a defeatist attitude when they’re either rolled in or walk through hospital doors, lamenting, “I’m sick and you’re the professional, so do what you want to make me better.” This lack of engagement and non-participative approach to your personal healthcare can lead to lesser compromised medical treatment and even deadly outcomes. I encourage people to be just as demanding when they’re in a healthcare facility as the are in a restaurant. I’ve even dedicated part of my nonprofit organization to assist those who have a fear or lack of understanding of how to maneuver through the healthcare system and receive optimal service and quality respectful care.

“Intolerable service exists because intolerable service is tolerated.” This is true but it doesn’t have to be this way. Patients and family members don’t realize they hold a significant amount of power and influence in ensuring they get the service and care they deserve. Whether you have private insurance or a government funded plan, you have rights and options that allow you to seek care at other facilities that will show you more respect. There is no reason to have an antagonistic relationship with any healthcare provider or organization.

In my two decades in the role of helping hospitals around the country change their culture and improve the services they offer to patients and family, I taught customer service workshops to all levels of staff, nurses and doctors. I’ve been trained and certified in every customer service school of thought from Disney to Marriot and even throwing fish at the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. I would ensure staff realized that they held the power to transform lives by the way they applied their craft but also to the way they treated those seeking their care. At every hospital, clinic or doctor’s office I visited to teach, I would take a crisp $50 bill. I would instruct the employees to turn over their badges and then recite the mission statement of their facility without looking. I never gave that Ulysses Grant note away. Next, I would ask the attendees to share with me their personal mission statement aside from their organization’s. No one had ever developed one so I helped each person write a mission statement that would guide them in their approach to their role and interaction with patients. I still live by mine to this day, “To positively impact someone’s life every day.”

If individuals and organizations don’t give you the level of care and service you deserve, there are state and federal oversight agencies you can reach out to that monitor performance and file a complaint. The N.C. Division of Health Services accepts grievances. You can review data online and see how hospital’s are performing before you decide to receive care there. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) publicly reports a five-star rating system for performance. They measure performance under five groups that include: mortality, safety of care, readmission, patient experience and timely & effective care. Hospitals receive reimbursement dollars based on how well they consistently perform in these measures. It’s important that you complete and return that annoying survey you get online or in the mail after discharge. Your responses will determine whether they receive optimal reimbursement. If you have a complaint and can’t work it out internally, you have the right to contact CMS or the Joint Commission, who evaluates and accredits over 22,000 U.S. healthcare organizations and programs. A standardized national patient satisfaction survey called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) is a standardized survey and data collection methodology used by all hospitals across the Country to measure patients’ perspectives of hospital care. At , you can view the performance of three hospitals side by side.

There is a Patients Bill of Rights, so you no longer have to suffer in silence.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.