Have you been in hospital before? What was it like? If you haven’t, spend a moment thinking about how it must feel.
Hospitals are scary places for a lot of people. A person who is normally confident in their home or work environment may feel completely un-empowered. Add pain or other unpleasant symptoms, boredom, constant noise, stress about what is wrong and whether you will recover and to what condition, inadequate information, lack of continuity in staff, and we have a potentially volatile situation.
Now imagine being sleep deprived, extremely unwell, very young or very old, being isolated from your loved ones, not fluent in the language spoken (and that’s before you get to the medical jargon), confused and/or not able to communicate clearly for some other reason.
Even those of us who work in healthcare often feel powerless and frustrated when it is our turn to be patients or a relative of one. I can only guess how intimidating it must be when the hospital is an even more foreign environment.
I have recently spent a bit of time bedside in hospitals and at doctor’s appointments with relatives and it has caused me to pause for reflection. At the same time I have seen a groundswell of health professionals and others wanting to do better. Positive change doesn’t have to cost a lot nor take a lot of time.
My challenge to health professionals and other staff is to try to imagine what it is like to be the person in front of you and to try make their visit a little easier for them. You may not be able to walk in their shoes, or lie in their hospital bed, but try to visualise what they might be going through.
6 simple steps to better know and help our patients:
1. Introduce yourself by full name and position the first time you meet anyone (ie the patient or their relative) – #hellomynameis.
2. Make eye contact. I know it is so obvious but I have seen people deliberately avoid doing so. An excellent way to make someone feel worthless.
3. Spend time getting to know a little about your patient and their family, especially their carer(s). In General Practice we often get to know our patients much better (and usually in their more natural state). You may not have the length of relationship in hospitals but you may be surprised to find out something more about the hospital-pyjama clad individual you are attending and help you work with them to better health. Who are they in their real life? What interests them? Is the man of few words in front of you running a multi-million dollar business? (I joke not!) Or a concert pianist? Or scared because his Dad had a heart attack at his age? Is the glum lady who looks ready to bolt terrified because her family who have come down to the big smoke to go into hospital never come home? Or is she worried about who is looking after her dog while she’s in here? Does she have a gorgeous sense of humour once she trusts you? It may help you to understand better where they are coming from, what they fear, what they understand and what they still need to know.
4. Explain. In language your patient can understand. Get an interpreter if needed. Information truly is helpful. We know only a proportion is taken in especially when bad news is delivered or someone is under a lot of stress or very unwell, so check their understanding and be prepared to have to explain some key things again.
5. Allow time for questions. Every visit. What you think your patient will be worried about is not necessarily what they want to know.
6. Visit regularly, especially when you have said you will (and apologise if you have been delayed). Your patient knows you are busy but is almost certainly hanging out for every review and update.
We don’t have to be health professionals to make changes to improve health. Anyone and everyone can do something (or many things) to help the health and wellbeing of others.
While I was studying, I worked for a family-owned department store in Perth called Aherns who trained their staff to, amongst other things, chat freely with the elderly people who came through the shop if they had time. The managers explained that they recognised that for many it was a rare social outing and for some, the only conversation they might have that day. Thirty years after my training with Aherns I still remember this. I still think my six years working with them gave me a better foundation in communication and dealing with people than my medical degree and subsequent studies did.
I have recently been made aware of the HUSH Music Foundation and would like to applaud Dr Catherine Crock and every contributor for their efforts to make hospitals more relaxing through music. I’d love to see this rolled out elsewhere. I’m sure there are other great examples and would love to hear about them.
We may not all have that kind of creative talent, but don’t underestimate the value of smiling in the lift, helping with directions or introducing yourself to the person next to the one you are visiting and asking if they need anything while you are picking up a paper for your loved one.
What have been your experiences with the health system?
What would you most like to change about health care?
What can you do to make a difference for someone else?
With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.
© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith (Cartoon Copyright: Vector Image by StockUnlimited)
(updated 13 April 2016)