Long-time Michigan Medicine patients offer tips for providing an exceptional patient experience

September 8, 2021  //  FOUND IN: News,

A man in a plaid shirt and woman in a blue shirt stand outside with their arms around either other.
Gerson and Beverley Geltner

The last time Gerson and Beverley Geltner visited Michigan Medicine, they were so impressed that they sent a letter to Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D., who immediately shared it in his Minute with Marschall blog

The blog was so popular among employees, Headlines decided to ask this couple — who have collectively visited Michigan Medicine hospitals 35 times — what makes a great patient experience.

Here’s what they had to say:

The perfect experience

“This last time we went to Michigan Medicine brought it all into focus for us,” said Beverley. “The place was spotless and everyone was working together — from the people who escorted us in, to the nurses who were so professional, to all the hospital staff.”

“We were in an emergency room,” Gerson added, “but they all acted so calm and normal. We even laughed together. There was not one person who seemed stressed or annoyed. The care was perfect.”

According to the couple, this wasn’t just a chance occurrence, but the result of a gradual improvement and cultural shift toward providing an exceptional patient experience which they have been observing in their 33 years as patients at Michigan Medicine. 

‘I don’t feel my age’

Their ability to take in everything around them may be what keeps the Geltners feeling so young. Gerson, 94, and Beverley, 83, are not only mentally sharp, they make a point of observing their surroundings, sharing their insights and supporting others when needed.  

“I don’t feel my age,” Gerson said. “We have people call us for advice, friends who get sick and are afraid to make decisions or won’t get necessary operations because they fear hospitals. When you get to our age, that happens often. You try to be there for them.“

While the Geltners feel “fortunate to be in the right place to receive the best care, in the backyard of a world class hospital,” they acknowledge that not every experience has been perfect.

“When we’ve had experiences that weren’t the best, we’ve written those letters too,” Beverley said. “We now believe the level of care has improved to the highest levels, but in the past we considered those earlier letters as an intervention.”

In fact, the couple recalled times when previous executives contacted them about their letters and talked about improvements put into place because of their concerns. Physicians who treated them later even remembered their names from the letters, which were used in quality discussions.

Patient experience tips from Gerson and Beverley

When asked what they would want Michigan Medicine employees to know about the patient experience, they shared these tips:

  • Care is of the utmost importance: “A patient feels it when a staff member doesn’t care,” Gerson said. “You know the ones who care because they say ‘my patient’ often. I was waiting for some test results in the middle of the night once and my nurse’s shift was ending but she knew it was important to me so she said, ‘I’ll stick around for a while.’  Most hospital staff are intuitive like that. If you have a need to take care of people, you’re in the right place.”
  • It’s the little things that count: “One positive change recently involves the people who transport you in the wheelchairs,” Beverley said. “They treat you like you are their oldest best friend. Also, the valet parking team is always welcoming.”
  • Enjoy what you do and let it show: “I have always been interested in businesses that have excellent customer service, and I ask the employees if they enjoy their work. They usually say yes,” said Gerson, who is a retired insurance broker. “You can feel it in the atmosphere. We asked the nurse who escorted us out on our last visit if she liked it there. She said she’d never leave.”
  • Stand for something: “I noticed new signs in the hospital that told us, ‘We work as a team.’ ‘We respect you and we expect respect.’ There were also references to diversity and inclusion,” said Beverley, who is a retired teacher, professor and school superintendent. “It felt like the walls were being used as teaching instruments. They are saying we’re a leading hospital and this is what we stand for.”
  • Respect goes both ways: The couple emphasized training all hospital employees to respect patients in a humanitarian way. “They should realize how many patients are terrified of hospitals, doctors and nurses,” Gerson said. “For health care workers, this is all normal, but for the patients, it is the most terrifying thing in the world. Don’t forget that. Patients have the same responsibility. Most don’t realize how hard nurses, aides and technicians work. You have to have a sense of humor during difficult times, even if you are deathly ill, because it will ease your stress and help those who work there.”
  • Caring for the whole patient: “You should see patients from two sets of lenses. First viewing the physical or mental issues they came there for and second with a view of their character, which includes their language, racial background and culture,” said Beverley. “Everyone comes with a context. They may arrive feeling they have been disrespected, abused or misunderstood by the health care system. Health care is essential, but underneath is a person with context who has to be taken care of.”
  • Remember who you serve: “I believe that leaders at the top should serve the bottom of the triangle — those people on the front line, as well as the community at large,” Beverley said. “The community can’t lose the confidence in a hospital. If they do, they will leave. There are sometimes leaders who don’t see, don’t know or don’t care about those people at the bottom. And the people will recognize that.”
  • It starts at the top: “I can’t emphasize this enough. Culture change and improvements don’t happen by accident,” Gerson said. “They must be encouraged from the top consistently.”

For more resources on improving the patient experience at Michigan Medicine, visit the Patient Experience Website.