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Hospitals Working to Improve Patient Stays, Experiences

Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Imagine lying in a hospital bed, afraid, stuck repeatedly with needles to draw blood for tests you don't understand.  Next to you lies another patient -- in a bed so close that each of you hears everything the other has to go through.

This is the reality for many hospitalized adults in the U.S.

In a New York Times editorial, Dr. Perri Klass, professor of journalism and pediatrics at New York University, laments this state of affairs and offers wisdom from the pediatric community to illustrate how small changes could make a big difference.

Among these changes, she suggests, are drawing blood with smaller needles and letting family members stay with patients in the hospital to allay the fear of being alone.

While Dr. Klass acknowledges that change takes time, she raises an important question: When will adult medicine catch up?

ABC News reached out to hospitals across the country to find out how they are working to improve patients' experiences.  Some of what we heard was just what the doctor -- Dr. Klass, that is -- had ordered.  Many institutions are now using smaller needles and tubes when they draw blood, both to improve comfort and conserve valuable blood for the patient.

The Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, Ky., for example, often uses smaller "butterfly" needles in the emergency room and intensive care unit.  This is especially important when it comes to elderly patients with smaller veins, they said.

Dr. Matthew Weissman of the Ryan-NENA Community Health Center in New York takes his approach to drawing blood a step further.  Not only does he tailor needle size to the patient, he tries to cut down on blood draws altogether by bundling laboratory tests together, and he makes sure to carefully explain every test that he runs.

In the ICU at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., they are using smaller needles to prevent unnecessary pain.  And if a patient needs a loving hand to hold to get through the pinch, their relatives will be there morning, noon and night.  The ICU has made limited visiting hours a thing of the past.

The hospital's administrators said in an email that they meet regularly with their partner facility, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, to discuss policies, procedures and what works best for patients.

And improving patients' experience is moving beyond simply instituting new hospital policies.  Many hospitals are literally paving the way to let loved ones stay by a patient's side.  New hospital construction is increasingly focused on patient privacy and accommodations for patients and their families.

But perhaps the biggest sign that the times are changing is what has transpired at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati.  There, efforts to improve the patient experience have managed to change the age-old practice of physician "rounds," or the daily gathering when doctors discuss a patient's care.

Instead of rushed updates on a patient's disease, half-answered questions about changing medications, and confusion over test results, the team staged a daily group conversation involving the doctors, nurses, the patient and their family.

Preliminary data show the new strategy is working.  More than 90 percent of doctors and nurses surveyed felt that rounding with the patients and families was an improvement over the old system.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio