March President's Message
I had hoped this month's President Message would be all about our experience at an amazing Leadership and Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. Sadly, thanks to the winter storm of the century, or at least, the second one this winter, our official visits to The Hill were cancelled. Given that, I selfishly, and foolishly, decided to push Mother Nature and try to get out of D.C. ahead of the storm. Spoiler alert: it didn't work.
However, my 17-hour experience trying to make it home was an excellent prism into the world of customer service. My odyssey began with the front desk staff at the hotel as I tried to explain why I was leaving and how to settle the bill since I was leaving two days early. Next of course was my Uber driver and how he kept me up to date, almost turn by turn, and minute by minute update to Reagan through rush hour traffic. So now I'm actually at the airport and all various folks from Delta. Two special shout outs though: my man Kyle the bartender in the airport bar, and most importantly, the angel from Heaven, aka the Papa John's delivery guy, who obviously drove out in the storm to bring pizza to the airport since nothing else was open and Delta thought we could use some food sitting at the gate. I realize that margaritas and pizza weren't exactly on my coach's race week nutrition plan, but after an executive meeting about it, I decided I didn't care after six hours at the gate. Turns out it was an excellent decision as I would have 11 more hours to go.
All any of us wanted was updates, even if it was "we don't have anything new to tell you but we're trying." Sitting at the gate, we could all see the gate agent on the phone, but then no announcement followed. What had she been told and why wasn't she telling us? When we finally did get on a plane, the cockpit door stayed open while we were at the gate during four hours of waiting. We could look down the aisle and see the pilots talking with the flight attendants, but nothing was said over the intercom.
Isn't that all our patients want? They see us moving about in the doc box but from their perspective, it's never to their room. We all know one of the questions on "that survey" is "where you kept updated and informed?" I know I could always do a better job keeping my patients informed, and the nurses, too.
Tonight also illustrated the power of a "thank you." When I finally actually boarded a plane, I said "thank you" to one of the flight attendants for sticking around. She accepted my platitude with the usual amount of consideration I'm sure she often does throughout her day as she greets hundreds of passengers. But when I said, "No really, thank you for sticking around," her face changed. You could see the tiredness come through as she too had been waiting for the same number of hours as us. She just replied, "Thank you for saying that."
One of my partners often jokingly refers to the "thank you ratio" of her shifts. Simply, it's the ratio of "thank you's" to "eff you's" she gets on a given shift. A shift is a clear victory if the ratio is greater than one (or undefined...math joke, sorry), and not a complete loss if it's at least more than 0.1. For those of you who work in urban and/or underserved EDs, this scoring system might ring all too true?
Last month's EM:RAP featured a great piece on accepting a "thank you" from a patient or family in the ED. After tonight's experience, I listened to it again. After all, I did have some time to kill. However, if you're a subscriber, listen to it again.
All of these people could have gone home, but they didn't. Kyle the bartender said "As long as you people are here, I'll keep pouring." And that brings me back to one of the most basic messages that I would have shared with our Senators and Representatives: in the Emergency Department, we are always open. We have to take care of anyone, anytime. So for work that all of you do every day, every night, even during snow storms...thank you.
Michael J. McCrea, MD, FACEP
President, Ohio ACEP