Patient-Centred Care: Is It In the Cards?

Submitted by Mark Wahba on March 20, 2012 - 18:09

Mark Wahba
Emergency Room Physician, Saskatoon Health Region

Remember when you were a kid and you or a sibling collected sports cards?  They came in wax paper packs with hard sticks of chewing gum (always broken). Whether they were hockey, baseball or football they were all similar: a photo of a player on the front with a write-up on the back. The photo was great: a cool action shot or perhaps the stock head and shoulders portrait.

But the best parts were the biographical snippets on the back. Everyone knew what the player looked like. But what were they really like?

Where were they born? Where did they start their career? What’s their nick-name?

There were team cards. Cards with trophies on them. Special edition cards.

These cards gave you a glimpse into the players’ lives. Made them human. Check out the Mets’ Gregg Jefferies card here. Who knew he loved baseball so much? Other cards gave you some background into a team's history. Some told the origins of a particular award and who had won it.

They also connected you to a world that you watched from the outside -  made you a part of the team. What does it mean to be an "Oiler", a "49er" or a member of the "Red Sox?" What does it take to win the Most Valuable Player award or the Most Sportsmanlike Player?  How many times have the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup? (Twenty-four, but who’s counting.)

I wonder if patients feel the same way. Being an outsider in a hospital and watching the world around them from the inside. Wondering what the people are really like.

How about this?  Healthcare trading cards.

Think of it. At each new patient encounter, the staff member would hand the patient one of their cards. All the doctors, nurses, support staff, everyone. The card would have the staff member’s first name and photo on the front with a little write-up on the back. Maybe something like:  

Richard. Team: Housekeeping. Started with health region in 1987. Wizard with the floor waxer. Takes pride in making the patient's stay as comfortable as possible. Easy to work with and always a smile on his face. 

Francis. Team:  Nursing. Started with health region in 1996. Experience with surgical and obstetrical nursing. Has a special gift of comforting patients and families before and after surgery. Favorite part of nursing is getting to know her patients. Favorite technical skill is dressing changes.

Team card. 5B: Surgery. 20 bed surgical unit: 16 regular and 4 high-level observation. 1 charge nurse with 5 nurses each shift. Our motto "Excellent pre- and post-operative care. No pain shall be left unmanaged."

Printing tens of thousands of cards to give to each patient coming through the doors would be expensive and not very environmentally friendly. So how about a virtual card for everyone? Each ID badge could have a QR code it. (That's one of those black and white boxes that you take a picture of with your phone which then takes you to a website. [1])

Patients could scan the code and find out who their team is. Maybe even have a spot on the website to leave some feedback for the employees. It would be a great way to close the feedback loop so sorely missing in healthcare. Combine this idea with a fully functioning patient-centred electronic health record and Wow! You’d completely connect the whole team.

What a great way to get patients involved and humanize the care experience. Instead of a crowd of anonymous white coats in the room during bedside rounds there would be:

Rachel, 4th year medical student: studied education before medicine, wants to work with children.

Fernando, junior resident: likes operating. Wants to develop a better technique to reduce post op infections.

Heather, senior resident: Going to Ottawa for a vascular fellowship. Hopes her children will adapt well to the new school.

Ivan, attending general surgeon: specializes in laparoscopic surgery. Volunteered his surgical skills in Haiti last year.

These cards could become part of the patient’s personal health record. Based on their experiences, patients would have favourites, their own personal dream teams. The aide who played cribbage with you during his break might be your equivalent of a Wayne Gretzky or Reggie Jackson rookie card.

The most valuable card of all would be the patient's, which reveals the person behind the case, the life that transcends the disease. No longer would it be "the woman with colon CA in bed 12" or “the guy in bed 2 with dementia waiting placement.” Instead it would be "Adele, mother of 3. Accountant. Likes to be called by her first name. Fears that the colostomy bag will leak when she's at work."  And “Maj. Richardson. Served in World War 2 spending time in the Netherlands. Owned a hardware store and is a skilled woodworker.”

Healthcare cards would give both staff and patients a glimpse into the person behind the face, the white coat, or the gown. In an often impersonal, high-tech, fast-paced medical world, maybe there’s something to learn from the sports trading cards that helped kids who wanted to know,  “What are those people really like?”


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