The Dynamics of Patient Experience & Compassionate Care In Healthcare
If you haven’t heard the term “Patient Experience” used in your local hospital or doctor’s office, you will. It’s a term used to describe your perspective of the care you receive throughout hospitals and healthcare systems and how professionals and teams can work collaboratively to provide optimal care for you and your family.
When establishing or continuing to develop patient experience programs, it’s not uncommon for hospitals to hire consulting groups to train and coach professionals on how to communicate more effectively in stressful, fast-paced healthcare environments or assist teams with developing the skills necessary to improve processes and relationships.
As a clinician and consultant, I have had the honor of helping coach and train clinical teams to develop these skills and the interpersonal strategies necessary to provide top-notch care. Additionally, having two parents who have experienced autoimmune illnesses that have required long term care, I’ve witnessed what can happen when interactions with providers are immensely compassionate and effective, as well as what can happen when they are rushed, abrupt, insincere or non-collaborative.
Programs can be beneficial if they are designed and implemented in a well-tailored, empathic manner that supports patients and families while not compromising the provision of care. They can be even better if patients, families, healthcare teams and administrators understand the dynamics which serve as the foundation for patient experience programs.
In short, patient experience programs may present as a type of “strong force — immovable object” dynamic present throughout healthcare systems. Understanding this dynamic may assist patients and families when interacting with healthcare providers.
The “strong force” presence in healthcare consists of the patients and families who present to our hospitals without always being familiar with the acronyms we use, our assessments of their illnesses, or the questions to ask. For those who are not familiar with fast-paced healthcare environments, a hospital can be an extremely intimidating place when considering the language and clinical terms used, complex machines, monitors, and the numerous departments located within a hospital. — Not to mention the abundance of directives and questions.
“Will the paper gown fit?” “Did she just say to put the opening in the front or in the back?” “Do I have to take all of my underwear off, or can I keep them on?” “Did they just mention that I need an EKG, an E.E.G. a C.T. or an M.R.I.?” “What was that medication they gave me?” “And what did they say it was for?” “Where do we need to go?” “What floor is that department on?” “How do we get there?” “How long will it take before we have the test results?” “Can I go see him now?”
You don’t have to look for vulnerability, uncertainty, concern, or fear — it’s already fully present, slowly drifting towards it’s “immovable object” counterpart.
The “immovable object” presence in the hospital consists of the defenses that clinical teams use to be able to transition from one patient to the next and the next without ever knowing who is about to come through the door. We all use defenses because they provide us with the ability to stay focused on the task and interactions at hand while working together to save lives or have the difficult conversations with each family if their loved one dies. We use them to complete the surgery successfully, resolve complications quickly, recommend an alternative or innovative procedure, or just to have a difficult conversation about the illness or symptoms that are present.
We use them to focus on you; while putting our own feelings and emotions aside.
That’s what defenses do; they allow clinical teams the ability to put our emotions aside so that we can listen attentively and communicate our strategies and goals for care while remaining attentive to your needs and wishes in our hospital. Are there moments in healthcare where we need to cry or just express our frustration about a situation? — Absolutely. But in any healthcare environment, time is often a critical factor that is better served by focusing on our patients and families and the task at hand.
The “Game Face”
If you have ever watched an experienced clinical team standing together in a trauma room waiting for a patient about to present as a “working code,” you know exactly what I mean when I use the term “game face.” The room tends to be quiet, focused, and casually pensive in preparation for the patient, the care about to be provided, and the tests to be considered to gain more information.
This “game face” defense is also called “detachment.” Detachment allows healthcare professionals the ability to stay above their own emotions while compassionately caring for patients and families.
Detachment allows us the opportunity to disconnect from acknowledging and empathizing with the vulnerability and uncertainty our patients feel until we know a little more about the tests we need to run, the conversations we need to have with you and your family, and our recommendations for care.
Does our detachment seem like we don’t care? Sometimes it does, especially non verbally considering that “game face” look we have, the tone of our voice, or the speed and complexity of the words that we use. We may seem detached because we are also considering the most tactful approach to the difficult conversation we need to have with you.
Or maybe — our detachment is covering up the emotions that we feel because we know how difficult our conversation with you is going to be because we have a loved one who is going through the same thing, or from our previous experiences having similar conversations with patients and families who have come before you. It could be that you remind us of them, and because of that, we can empathize with you, but we can’t show that empathy because we still need to obtain all of the information necessary to recommend your plan for care.
These dynamics and the defenses we all have, impact your perspective of the care we provide and your overall experience within our hospital or clinic. Our cumulative and collaborative challenge is bridging the chasm between how you feel, the questions you have, and our need to provide you and your family with the empathy, care, and support necessary to navigate the illness and symptoms that you have.
It’s not always easy; it is absolutely necessary.
There are 5 Ways We Can All Support the Provision of an Optimal Patient Experience In Your Hospital or Clinic:
- Contact Info: Consider keeping all of your physicians’ names, their contact information, and the medication and dosages you are prescribed with you at all times so that your care remains well coordinated. This includes programming 1–3 I.C.E. (“In Case of Emergency”) contact names and phone numbers into your cell phone and wallet so that we can reach your loved ones and providers quickly if necessary.
- Communication: We can listen more and push through some of our defenses to express our care and empathy for your symptoms. Concurrently, you can (and should) ask all of the questions you have about your illness, recommendations for care and follow up. Remember, there is no such thing as a “stupid question.” You should also consider keeping a notebook and pen with you in case you need to write down questions for follow up or if you need additional clarification.
- Surveys: When you receive a survey from your hospital or provider, you should answer it comprehensively and email or send it back quickly. Hospitals and healthcare organizations may not make changes unless they are aware of your concerns. If you are still in the hospital and you have a concern, ask to speak with your Physician, Nurse, Patient Advocate, or Patient Experience Representative. Additionally, if there was a member of the team who provided care above and beyond your expectations, please make sure you let the healthcare team know as well. There’s usually a spot in the survey where you can document additional comments regarding your care.
- Feelings, Emotions & Defenses: The defense of “detachment” discussed previously is only 1 of over 30 defenses that we use to shield our emotions when it is not the appropriate time to express them. Additionally, there are thousands of words in the English language that can describe the feelings and emotions we all have. In any healthcare environment, it’s essential to acknowledge how we feel with those closest to us and then have the conversations we need to have when we can listen and be heard by the teams and professionals we are interacting with. Additionally, it’s also important to acknowledge that because of the fast-pace of healthcare, sometimes our emotions and defenses can be easily misinterpreted.
- Patient Experience: In addition to the dynamics discussed in this article, there are several more factors involved in Patient Experience. These factors include (but are not limited to) the instructions you receive when you leave the hospital, the information you are provided regarding the medication you are prescribed, and the environment within the hospital itself.
If you are interested in additional information and resources related to the rapidly growing area of Patient Experience, please click on the links below.
S.A. Leys is a Consultant and Coach for the healthcare professionals and teams who care for all of us (http://www.SusanLeys.com). Susan’s book “5 Tips To Navigate Your Stressful Healthcare Career” is available here. Thanks!
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