This year has been filled with incredible opportunities to observe clinicians, patients, and family members as they deliver and receive care as well as navigate the healthcare system. However, no experience comes close to the intimacy of shadowing the Visiting Nurses Association's home care nurses.
Visiting nurses are saints. These men and women spend their days driving from house to house educating, treating, and monitoring patients. They are rattling off prescription names and dosages, explaining symptoms and disease, listing nursing homes in the area, recalling doctors names who have long retired, suggesting recipes for diet changes, and asking questions about the status of grandchildren and daughters; all while quickly analyzing the social, emotional, and financial factors impacting the lives of their patients. They are on the front lines of healthcare using their seemingly endless clinical knowledge and incredibly likeable disposition to provide answers, comfort, and sometime hard truths to their patients. To say I was in awe of the work that the nurse I traveled with was doing is an understatement.
There is an intimacy that comes with stepping into someone’s home. You immediately get a sense of what is important to them by seeing their family photographs, professional sports banners, and magazine choices. It’s almost impossible to even view the people you visit as patients. Without the hospital gowns, monitors, and impersonal hospital art, you see them for who they are, people who are sick and often scared. Being in their home, often a place of comfort and safety, allows for open conversations about fears, little victories, and goals. People ask curious, almost hesitant questions; expressing frustration with their declining health, lack of understanding, poor support system or all three. As you sit with them, you can’t help but become their champion. You see what brings them joy and you feel called to offer them the opportunity to experience more of what they love.
The work that happens in the homes can only be described as healing both physically and emotionally. Shadowing the nurses was a transformative moment for me. I am an efficiency junkie, often looking for room to shave off unnecessary process. But I’ve learned that while health can be improved by making all the boring things more efficient—supply ordering, bill payment, pharmacy refills, and recording—the real healing can’t be automated. This part, despite new technologies, processes, and hours of consultants’ billable hours, will continue to require the dedication, long-hours, and unending patience of the nurses and clinicians willing to work in environments where patients don’t feel like patients, they just feel like people. In my humble opinion the future of health lies in automating all the processes that patients don’t see and investing the time and resources to meet patients where they are more open to change and education, their homes.