How Does Critical Thinking Shape the Patient Experience?

Posted by Kristin Baird on April 5th, 2016 • No Comments »

I’m beginning to think there is no such thing as common sense. In all fairness, what’s common to me, could be completely foreign to you or the next person. So given that, perhaps we can do away with the term common sense altogether. However, critical thinking is a term that should define how we function on the job and in life. Not only is critical thinking a valuable survival skill, but the core of innovation, entrepreneurship, AND the patient experience. Critical thinking is crucial to a good patient experience because people and situations are different and require unique approaches to care.

In the 80’s and early 90’s, I loved watching the TV show MacGyver. He had an uncanny ability to make something out of nothing to solve problems from simplest to the most complex. IMDb describes him as, “Drawing on a vast practical knowledge of science, Macgyver is able to make use of any mundane materials around him to create unorthodox solutions to any problem he faces.”

Nursing and other hands-on healthcare professions demands constant critical thinking. When it’s lacking you know it because you’ll see constant frustration over seemingly simple tasks. When it’s present, the patients, providers, and co-workers feel the difference. There’s a sense that every problem has a solution and, because they (the patients) matter; they will find that solution.

At several points in my sister’s recent recovery, I’ve witnessed her nurses coming up with ingenious solutions for managing her five drains, central lines and other various tubes, dressings, bags and clothing to make her more comfortable and to allow her to move freely. Although this example might seem minor, it’s not. It’s often the difference between her having to remain bed-ridden and being able to walk. They problem-solve with her to promote her independence and healing.

We’ve also witnessed a sharp contrast when critical thinking was absent in her care. One very simple example surfaced during my sister’s recent subacute admission. The doctor had prescribed Compazine for nausea with three possible routes of administration: oral, IV or suppository. When Elizabeth couldn’t swallow the pills or keep them down (nausea often results in vomiting), the LPNs never once offered a different route of administration other than oral. Nor did they ever crush pills or have her sit up in a chair to aid in effective swallowing. Frankly, I was appalled at the lack of critical thinking.

We need to foster cultures that encourage critical thinking to serve the patients better. Experienced nurses can act as mentors to the inexperienced by encouraging them to ask more questions. Ask “why,” “how,” and “what if” type questions. It’s a great way to teach, to learn and to serve the patients.


Baird Consulting

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