“There’s nothing worse than watching someone you love suffer and not knowing what to do,” said Edith Elliott who, as a middle-school student, cared for her mother who had a brain tumor. A Wall Street Journal article about the 31-year-old American is inspiring, though I wish we could accomplish as much here in the United States as she has in a very short time in India.
Elliott visited a Bangalore, India hospital in 2012 and met a mother whose child was dying from severe heart problems. The distraught mother “was not able to communicate with the nurses; she didn’t speak the same language,” Elliott told the newspaper. “[She] had no way of getting the information she needed for a very sick child.” In response to the need, Elliott and three others founded a nonprofit, Noora Health, that developed training videos “with nods to Bollywood and soap operas to keep things entertaining—to educate relatives in subjects including hygiene, checking temperatures, and warning signs of post-surgery complications.” The information is understandable regardless of literacy level. “We put it in a form that people can digest and understand,” Elliott told the WSJ. Nurse-led training sessions ensure practice before sending patients home with their caregivers. Noora Health has trained at least 25,000 family members and staff at 20 Indian hospitals. One hospital reported that the rate of post-surgery complications has declined by 36% since 2014, and hospital readmissions have dropped by 24%.
There’s more to the story, of course: one doctor for every 1,700 people, a terrible shortage of nurses, and probably still extraordinarily high readmission rates. But U.S. hospital readmission rates aren’t anything to brag about. Understandable caregiver information is an urgent need here, too. As more healthcare moves into the home, family and patient familiarity and confidence with the use of medical technology is more important than ever. We have the resources, we have the know-how, and some of us have the will, but I wish we were further along in creating meaningful, understandable and, yes, entertaining materials that could help reduce hospital readmissions and avoid catastrophes at home. Elliott and colleagues produced videos in seven Indian languages. We could do that—not everyone in the United States speaks English and Spanish, you know.
It must be great to see a need and have the room to quickly create a solution without having to slog through vast bureaucracies, wait for years of research and figure out how to become a priority for the medical industrial complex where all eyes are firmly focused on the bottom line. Let’s broaden the lens, set aside excuses, accelerate the pace, do the right thing. Let’s vow to make life a little easier for folks who are sick and tired, worried and helpless. And, while we’re at it, let’s help decrease the rate of hospital readmissions. Now wouldn’t that be something?
Suzanne Steidl is a patient/caregiver advocate. She is a member of the AAMI Foundation’s National Council for Healthcare Technology Safety. Additionally, she sits on the Advisory Board of the Healthcare Technology Foundation.