Everything a patient hears, sees, smells, and touches during a healthcare encounter should instill trust in the organization. Unfortunately, many of the real-life experiences our patients have end up shattering trust in a split second when an employee speaks without filtering through the patient experience lens. I’m often concerned about comments that I overhear during medical encounters. I figure that I only catch an infinitesimal number of comments myself, so if I continually observe disturbing encounters, how many are really happening out there at any given time?
Just last weekend, I accompanied a family member to an emergency room in a large, nationally renowned academic medical center. Her condition was not life threatening, but she has an underlying heart condition that must be considered in every health-related encounter. Learning about her heart condition, the nurse placed the EKG leads on her chest to monitor her heart rate, commented on how slow it was, and left the room. The monitor’s alarm sounded every time her heart rate dropped below 37 beats per minute. After several episodes, the nurse returned, and said, “I’m going to just shut off the monitor so it doesn’t drive us nuts at the nurses’ station,” and left.
What message did she just give? That it is more important that the nurses not be bothered by those pesky alarms than it is to keep track of a dangerously low heart rate? As a nurse, I knew that the patient wasn’t in any imminent danger, but the patient was stunned and concerned by both the comment and the fact that the nurse had turned off the alarm. She even stated that she felt shut off from the staff.
Within minutes of the monitor episode, a lab tech entered the room. She spotted the patient’s purse on the floor and said, “Here, let me put this up on the counter for you. Hospital floors are notorious for being filthy.” I’m going to give the tech the benefit of the doubt. Her intentions were good, but the delivery ended up creating more concern than comfort. Was the place crawling with infectious diseases? Hadn’t the floor been cleaned? Should I be worried about catching something?
Both of these comments occurred with one patient during one hour of one care encounter. How many more were happening at the same time in the millions of encounters happening in thousands of organizations around the globe?
Every encounter with every patient must help to instill confidence. That means everyone who comes in contact with patients must learn to filter their remarks through the patients’ eyes and ears. Think before you speak.