I recently re-read the words of broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, “America’s healthcare system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.”
This sad and yet truthful reflection, combined with the reality that our founding partner, mentor, friend, student of the classics, and therefore a natural etymologist – Tim Sullivan – had me thinking about the origination of the words we use in healthcare.
Two words in particular; hospital and patient.
A quick scan of history reveals that in the middle ages hospitals were in fact almshouses for the poor, or hostels for pilgrims. The word ‘hospital’ comes from the Latin word hospes, meaning an entertainer, host, a visitor, a guest, a friend bound by the ties of hospitality.
Another noun derived from this is hospitum which came to mean hospitality, or the relationship between guest and shelterer. Hospes is also the root of the English word host.
In my travels, I have witnessed many hospital leaders who have lost sight of the fact that our roots go back to providing shelter for the poor, a resting place for those on pilgrimage, and completely lost sight of the tenets of welcoming patients as guest or friend.
The English noun ‘patient’ comes from the Latin word patiens, the present participle of the verb, patior, meaning ‘I am suffering’.
The hospital should be a place of respite for the friend that is suffering.
I think it is fair to say that if you’re leading in a hospital (regardless of size) you’re contributing to the running of one of the oldest aspects of the “service industry”. Yet at many hospitals, we seem to have left the consistent delivery of this ‘service’ completely up to chance or in the care of those without the training and skills necessary to deliver upon the promise.
Service – from the old English meaning religious devotion or a form of liturgy, from old French servise or Latin servitium ‘slavery,’ from servus ‘slave.’ The early sense of the verb (mid-19th century) was ‘be of service to’, or ‘to provide with a service.’
What service is your institution providing those who are suffering that come to your hospital for care and cure?
Do you insist on telling your patients and communities why they should be satisfied with your ‘service’ because of how safe you are, what good ratings you get, or how qualified your staff are?
Or are you listening to those you are called to serve in order that you might better deliver the service(s) they need?
Your patients want to feel welcome, be treated kindly, understood, healed, cured, communicated with (not to), and they don’t want their time to be wasted.
The rest (the safety, the expertise and the qualifications) are a prerequisite – foundational and non-negotiable.
Are you listening to those you serve?