Saturday, 13 February 2010

Another Friday night in A&E with the kids

From conversations with friends, we are not the only family to spend the odd evening in London's A&E. The mix of a lack of vocabulary to inform you exactly what they're feeling, a non-stop energy that can sometimes lead to accidents, and a body that's not had much time to build its defences, create occasions for immediate help when the UK's GP system clocks off at 6pm (at least my GP surgery).

So when my 2-year old son developed a soaring temperature that we couldn't appear to control over a period, we decided it was best to get him checked out. Having left my parents baby sit our daughter, we set off at 8pm on a Friday night to the local A&E (Accident & Emergency) unit. There is a Pediatric unit, allowing children to be seen and wait away from the wider adult population. Once our details had been taken, we waited around 30 minutes to see a nurse, then a further hour to see a doctor. The problem was found through a general inspection and after around 2.5 hours we were leaving.

While the problem for which we went was resolved. I came away feeling disgruntled. Admittedly a free service to all UK citizens with impressively dedicated staff, nonetheless you can't help notice that:

- there is a distinct lack of communication with waiting, anxious parents, when up-to-date communication is paramount
- the environment needing a good lick of paint and updating does not help inspire confidence in the level of health advice.

Considering patients as customers has much room for improvement within the UK A&E arena. The fantastic job that doctors and nurses are doing can't be supported by environments, resource levels, and processes that drive such deep customer dissatisfaction. I understand the difficult situation in terms of budget, an underinvested system in which we are slowly being re-invested, and a system that was designed for a far smaller population. But as marketers know, it is sometimes the small cost, high-perceived value items that can make all the difference. For example:

- a nurse constantly checking on families to update them on queue situations
- an area for babies to lie down while they wait, rather than parents holding them for hours on end
- a water fountain (!)

I appreciate that this is a controversial area. Yet, the staff within hospitals could find themselves meeting with slightly less stressed parents, leading to improved dialogue when they meet.

Appreciate your thoughts.

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