My big sister had THR (Total Hip Replacement) surgery on Tuesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in Manhattan. I was her driver and extra set of ears (along with my younger sister as well). I am, most fortunately, a stranger to the hospital experience so I arrived as a tourist and got to notice how everything was being done.

This was a 5-star experience. It started with crystal clear signage. You have no idea how important this is unless it’s absent. Everything was well-marked from the entrance to the patient drop-off to the designated parking lot. It doesn’t take a lot to do it right–a well-placed sign where you need it is sufficient. But so many businesses and institutions overlook this vital necessity. Someone was on the job to be sure all this was thoroughly attended to. Throughout the day, I found exactly what I was looking for simply by looking up and finding exquisitely accurate directions printed on a sign.

I appreciated that in the crowded elevator to the fourth floor there was an explanatory sign to show which side the elevator doors opened (front and rear) so you could navigate toward the correct exit as your floor approached. A small, good thing which, if overlooked, adds tension to your journey. It wasn’t overlooked.

In the Family Atrium, an airy, nicely furnished space with a spectacular view of the East River, we were given a printed notecard explaining precisely when visiting hours were for post-op patients. You were allowed 15 minutes, max! It’s important for the patient to rest, it explained, so visits are kept short and only one ‘representative’ per family is allowed bedside at any time. We were escorted into the recovery area and out again at the end of the 15 minutes.

When I came back for my 15-minute visit later that day, I again went to the Family Atrium where registered visitors’ names were clearly listed. We were given yellow gowns to wear over our street clothes and hand sanitizing liquid to clean off germs. I never had to explain who I was or which patient I was there to see. Their records and systems are so precise that I felt like a guest in a fancy hotel.

Of course, all of this is moot if the staff isn’t top-notch as well. They were spectacular. Before the surgery, no fewer than six professionals came by my sister’s bed to measure different vital signs, help her into special stockings which would keep the swelling down, attach her IV, etc. Everyone was courteous, personable (self-introductions and handshakes to the patient and me as well) and informative. The surgery went flawlessly, and my sister was very comfortable immediately after the operation and even better the next day.

My good friend Susan Keane Baker wrote a book called Managing Patient Expectations several years ago. I receive her excellent newsletters regularly and am aware of what it takes to create a safe, meaningful and humanized hospital experience. I have to believe that her leadership in this area has impacted hospitals across the country to be user-friendly. HSS deserves an A+ for getting it all right–especially my sister’s hip.

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