For most patients, healthcare is not a daily or yearly event in their lives. Because there are usually several sporadic healthcare interactions in a lifetime, they are all classified as moments that matter. A short visit to the emergency department is filled with new interactions with nurses, registration clerks, physicians, and an army of ancillary support staff. There are new sights and sounds, and usually a few new smells. When it comes to interactions with a physician, a patient has two very important moments that matter.
Moment One: The First Impression and Introduction
The first moment, which includes vividly our first impression, also includes the patient communication to the physician. The provider asks “What brings you here today? How bad are you hurting? When did all this start?” The patient has specific points that he or she considers important to convey, and attempts at communication cannot be satisfied until the doctor registers with the patient that the message has been received and understood by his words and his actions. Any obstacle or distraction for the patient will impair the ability to communicate. Distractions often include wondering why the physician is not sitting inside the room, or why he is standing inside the doorway instead of near the patient. Is he in that big a hurry that he can’t sit and talk? What about the physician’s interrupting a patient mid-thought, which happens on average about every twenty seconds or so?
Providers Have Great Influence on This First Moment
A patient’s ability to communicate and listen effectively is also impacted by what appears to be an unengaged or uninterested physician typing on a computer screen, and never once making eye contact or conversing face-to-face. Obstacles are even greater with the complexities from chronic illness or disability. All of these must be addressed and understood from the patient’s perspective in order to assure accurate and complete communication.
Moment Two: Findings, Treatment Plans, and Setting Expectations
The second moment that matters from the patient point of view encompasses the physician’s attempt to communicate results and treatment plans; physicians can also begin to simply and clearly manage expectations. This interaction includes specific and detailed information about laboratory results, x-ray readings, or progression from treatments. This communication, is called narrating your plan, which means explaining what is to happen and including the why it is important. This cannot be effectively completed until the patient clearly signifies that the message has been received and understood. How tempting is it for the physician to avoid this communication altogether? Have you ever asked a nurse to explain a test result before the patient goes home or goes upstairs for admission? I can assure you that the patient is expecting direct and clear communication from the physician, which the nurse can manage up and set the physician up for success in advance. While patients will accept and appreciate discussions with their nurses, the patient will always feel like he or she missed a moment that could have mattered with their physician.
Consider this very typical situation from the patient’s point of view in any emergency department. More than likely, the patient has waited several hours to be placed into an exam room, undergone needle sticks and radiology exams, and waited several hours for testing to be complete. For this patient, these inconveniences are worthwhile if he or she can feel better and have clear answers as to why he or she is sick when the interaction is complete. If however, this final communication from the physician is inadequate, awkward, or absent altogether, the patient will always have a feeling that something is lacking.
The Importance of Focus
While in the emergency department, if you focus on the moments that matter—the patient communication to the physician and the physician communication to the patient—you can have truly great moments that matter. Set the stage, rehearse your lines, go the extra mile, and focus on connecting with your patients. Maximize your moment, and take the stage. This connection with your patients can be fulfilling and satisfying for everyone involved.
This blog post excerpts an article by Dr. Paul Glisson, Physician Coach, HealthStream Engagement Institute, in the eBook The Impact of Communication on Healthcare Outcomes. Download the full eBook here.
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