My wife and I spent over eight hours in our local hospital Sunday, seven of them in the emergency room. And while all the doctors, nurses, admissions personnel and transport people were skilled and friendly, the experience still served as a lesson in the frustration that can occur when “the plan” is not clear to the participants. That is something I’ve been talking about lately concerning the communication weaknesses of the workers’ compensation industry.

You instinctively know that your Sunday morning is not going to go well when you are awakened by a ringing phone at 5:45 AM. Our phone, which announces the caller, was telling me it was my father in law as I struggled to awaken and fumbled for the handset. He has had a cold for the past few days and felt worse that morning. He had not slept and was afraid he might have the flu. He was extremely apologetic for bothering us, but he thought he should go to the hospital. My father in law, who lives a few miles from us, will be 91 years old next week. After what the country has experienced this winter, all I had to hear was “flu” and I was on board with “hospital.”

We had him at the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital by 6:30 AM. While he did not have many of the traditional symptoms of the flu, he did complain of a tightness in his chest that he attributed to congestion.

He was taken in right away, and while we eventually learned he did not have the flu, the hospital did find he was suffering an irregular heartbeat, and was experiencing what is known as Atrial Fibrillation, or A-fib. A-fib is not an uncommon condition, especially among the elderly. Left untreated, however, it can damage the heart or cause a stroke, so we were pretty happy with the fact we had brought him in. 

As I indicated earlier, we spent 7 hours in the emergency room, waiting for various tests and for him to be admitted to the hospital. Much of what we experienced is the “nature of the beast” in this environment. Tests, procedures and the admissions process take time. I will stress that the staff was wonderful. The doctors, nurses and nurse practitioner who all attended to him took the time to explain his condition, as well as the tests and actions they would be taking. However, each of those interactions was mere minutes interspersed by long periods of inactivity, and we spent several of those hours not knowing what the end of the day would look like. Once we found out he was being admitted, it was probably another 4 hours before that actually occurred.

My father in law loves this hospital. Although now retired from it, he spent 22 years on its Board of Directors, and is a past Chairman for the facility. Still, like I assume for most people in the ER at any given time, the word “patient” could only be applied to him in the description of his position in this scenario. He had been confined to a bed for hours, had not eaten all day and was wondering if and when they were going to get him to a room. It was somewhere in the middle of this limbo that he made the statement that prompted this post. Acknowledging that the wait for admission from ER was one of the biggest complaints the hospital had to contend with, he said, “I just want someone to tell me what is happening.”

And he was right. It was the lack of specific information that was probably the biggest point of contention in the process. I mentioned to him our efforts to address this in workers’ comp, and we agreed that likely every industry probably has that issue; performing tasks from a professional perspective without fully embracing how it impacts or is perceived by the recipients of those services.

Again, this is not intended as a criticism of our local hospital. It does, however, give us something to think about in our own industry. Our injured workers’ often have to deal with this reality in the medical world, but layer on top of that a management process that is unclear to them; where an “end game” is not really defined or explained, and you can start to see why some of the claims we manage go off the rails so quickly.

I have often said that in the absence of good information, cancerous thoughts will grow. I imagine that philosophy can apply to many specific industries. It certainly can affect the outcomes in workers’ comp. We spend a lot of time and money in litigation and dispute. Communication won’t stop all of that, but sometimes, just maybe, we could see improved results if we just take a moment to explain the process and define the goal. If we could just tell people what is happening, it just might make their wait a bit more palatable.

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