Kindness Is Free

Our healthcare system—our biggest and most important industry, particularly as we rapidly age—needs a complete makeover. Funding? Sure, but that's not my gig. I'm Tommy Two-note. (1) Hospitals: Adopt rudimentary quality practices ... AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE 195,000 AMERICANS A YEAR YOU KILL, MANY THROUGH GROSS NEGLIGENCE. (2) Docs (and other co-conspirators): Shift focus—dramatically—from dosing, cutting and fixing-after-the-fact to Prevention, Wellness and Healing.

Some get it. Case in point: The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Planetree Alliance. Started in San Francisco in 1981, Planetree (named for the Sycamore under which Hippocrates practiced) is now overseen by Griffin Health Services Corporation of Derby, CT. (Not so incidentally, Griffin Hospital is routinely named one of "The 100 Best Companies to Work For.")

In short, the Planetree approach focuses on healing, not just curing. The goal is a fully informed patient and family participating in every aspect of the diagnosis, treatment, healing, and subsequent wellness process. What can I say in less than 10,000 words? Do I start with the open nurses' stations, where patients are encouraged to hang out? The open case notes file, in which patients (and their families!) are encouraged (Big Word: ENCOURAGED) to add their own comments and commentary to that of the docs and other caregivers? TOTALLY UNRESTRICTED VISITING HOURS? A "no separation" policy concerning patients and family ... in the ER? (!!!) Pet visitation programs? A kitchen for patients, and the cheery aroma of baking cookies? Massage for patients ... and staff? ("Take care of the caregivers!" Duh!)

Two pieces of good news. First, our friends at Planetree wrote a book in 2003. (I just got around to reading it last week, as I prepared for a speech to the American Health Care Association—the trade association for eldercare, assisted-living et al.) Title: Putting Patients First: Designing and Practicing Patient-Centered Care, by Planetree Exec Director Susan Frampton, Planetree Alliance director Laura Gilpin, and Griffin Health Services CEO Patrick Charmel. Second, you can get a preview via three Special PowerPoint Presentations I've just posted: "Planetree," "Leading for Excellence"/AHCA/10.04.04, and "X04: Excellence Found." (Or, go directly to the Planetree Web site: www.planetree.org.)

Let me conclude this lengthy—and important—blog with a recitation of the Nine Planetree Practices:

1. The Importance of Human Interaction
2. Informing and Empowering Diverse Populations: Consumer Health Libraries and Patient Education
3. Healing Partner Partnerships: The Importance of Including Friends and Family
4. Nutrition: The Nurturing Aspects of Food
5. Spirituality: Inner Resources for Healing
6. Human Touch: The Essentials of Communicating Caring Through Massage
7. Healing Arts: Nutrition for the Soul
8. Integrating Complementary and Alternative Practices into Conventional Care
9. Healing Environments: Architecture and Design Conducive to Health

And, oh yes, the title of this Blog, from Practice #1, "Kindness is free": "There is a misconception that supportive interactions require more staff or more time and are therefore more costly. Although labor costs are a substantial part of any hospital budget, the interactions themselves add nothing to the budget. Kindness is free. Listening to patients or answering their questions costs nothing. It could be argued that negative interactions—alienating patients, being unresponsive to their needs, or limiting their sense of control—can be very costly in lost patient revenues and perhaps litigation. Angry, frustrated, or frightened patients may be combative, withdrawn, and less cooperative, requiring far more time than it would have taken to interact with them initially in a positive way."

I am delighted to say that Tom's "Introduction to Planetree" was well received by my wonderful newfound friends at the AHCA convention. There is hope, Virginia. (I hope.)