07 Aug Coming Out of the Shadows: The Patient Experience
Post written by Susan Mazer
We are a reductionist culture. Whatever the words are, we come up with an acronym. Whatever the catastrophe, we love headlines. Whatever the issue, we reduce to the shortest most minimal understanding.
And, when it comes to the story of what happens to a patient, we translate the whole experience into six letters: HCAHPS.
I am not happy about this. Because it is just too easy to think we really know what is happening or what happened. We even look at patients and ask them how they are and accept “fine!” as meaningful. Taking the time to find out what happened is not about the minutes it takes. It is about realizing and respecting the complexity of the human condition. It is about not accepting a one or two word response to “How are you?”
More so, it is about caring enough to dig deeper, get our hands dirty, and live among the pain and angst that patients and families live moment to moment. The clues are beyond the first words or first sentences. The clues are beyond even our first question and answer. The real heart of the matter comes alive once we get past the formalities and once we ask the person in front of us what “fine” means. Multi-tasking is toxic to the patient experience. It means that when with one patient, don’t think about another patient. Otherwise no one is really ever where their body is standing. The patient does not multi-task. Patients have one job: to recover.
And, when they finally have real people show up to ask real questions, they want all of us, not a distracted partial presence. So, a couple of suggestions. When asking patients how they are, you might add, “I really want to know.” The next time a patient offers only “fine,” you might ask “What does that means to you?” And, more than all of this, the next time your view of the patient is blocked by a chart, meds, or IV, refocus your attention.
The next time you evaluate your own state of mind, body, and spirit, take the time to really think about it. Because you matter, too. Yes, you matter. And, you are more than a silhouette to the patient who waits for you. Thus, the patient must be more than a silhouette.
Only when we do this can we be personal, effective, and intimate with those who have entrusted us with their health. And, only then does the patient experience come out of the shadows.