You are sitting in an unfamiliar room all alone, after being lead down a labyrinth and told to wait patiently. As you are waiting the pain in your side becomes worse and it feels like there are needles sticking into the entire left side of your body. The walls seem to be closing in you, your heart starts beating faster, and you feel as if you are consciously telling yourself to keep breathing.
Sounds like the beginning of a horror movie, right? In fact, this is just a common scenario a patient may face as they are waiting for their doctor at a busy hospital. Hospitals can often incite worry, fear, anxiety and a slew of other emotions before a patient has even interacted with another hospital employee. This highlights the importance of the interactions between patient and employee in order to mitigate the emotional strain that an individual may have based on the nature of the hospital visit.
In one respect, doctors and nurses are not unlike maintenance individuals at a manufacturing facility. They are presented with an issue, asked to diagnose that issue, and then set out a procedure for correcting that issue. There is one overriding difference; the subject is not a large machine with mother boards and hydraulics, but a human being with feelings and emotions. This analogy demonstrates the difference between a provider who is a fixer and one who is a healer.
One can often hear the common sentiment “I don’t care how the doctor acts towards me as long as he/she fixes what ails me.” That sentiment is just not commonly true, doctors with higher patient care scores tend to be sued less often, even if they are not better at the technical aspects of the role. Creating trust, and conveying empathy, have both been shown to not only make the patient “feel” better, but to improve clinical outcomes. Most people who come into a hospital, either patient or family member, are uncomfortable, at least. They may be considering what is going on with their body, if their treatment is working, what will happen next; bottom line, fear of the unknown. We rely on the hospital staff with their years of education and experience to help us through our traumatic events. However, we also expect them to remain human in their interactions with us and understand that although they may see 20 patients in that day, we will only see one doctor and we are putting our life in that one doctor’s hands. Small things that can help the patient to build that trust will go a miles in terms of feeling confident and positive about the experience to come (not coincidentally, a powerful force for recovery).
These behaviors can often be very simple and yet have a profound impact on the patient’s satisfaction and trust with their healthcare providers. Specifically, consider the nurse who spends two minutes getting to know the individual prior to taking the vitals and drawing blood. That two has the potential for building years worth of trust. Or a doctor who checks into a room and says, “I apologize for the delay, but I should not be long, I just need to talk with one more patient and then I will return to provide you with my full attention.” Seems simple right? In your last hospital experience did it happen? Healthcare professionals have a job to do and that job is to try to cure individuals of their pain and suffering, but often that pain and suffering is defined in medical terms. However, great healthcare providers define that pain and suffering in personal terms.
There’s a growing realization that this is true, but more importantly, that you can recognize this essential truth in how you define your mission and how you select and develop senior leaders, physicians, nurses and front line staff who “get” the personal side of patient care, and who can develop the skills to ease patients’ emotional pain and angst, and thereby contribute to their overall health and recovery. This is what patient centered care really means.