Labeling Patients Impedes Care

Posted by Kristin Baird on March 24th, 2015 • No Comments »

Human beings are not omniscient. As such, we have no real way of knowing what is going on in someone’s life. Yet that doesn’t seem to stop some of us from lavishly dispensing judgement and labeling patients without hearing their stories or knowing anything about them.

Drug-seeker, train wreck, and difficult are just a few of the many labels placed on patients that keep healthcare providers from being attuned, receptive, and in partnership with their patients.

I watched a triage nurse show classic signs of labeling a few weeks ago as my sister was admitted to ER. If there could have been thought bubbles floating above her head, they might have read: “drug-seeker,” “drama queen,” or even “hypochondriac.” Okay, so I’m not a mind-reader either, but three times I saw her roll her eyes and throw me a smirk that implied she wasn’t believing anything she was hearing. I must admit that it was sort of fun to see her expression change when a very reputable specialist stepped into the room and said my sister’s case had been the day’s subject in grand rounds and he knew all about her. That “drug-seeking drama queen” was admitted for 7 days, had 2 surgical procedures and 2 blood transfusions.

In our Power of One class, we teach front line employees the importance of assuming a neutral position and suspending judgment of others in order to foster greater respect. Participants evaluate it as one of the most impactful parts of the training. In fact, many participants submit comments telling us that they had been unaware of just how quickly they are passing judgement about others based on appearance or behaviors.

The human brain works in nano-seconds to assess surroundings and people who might pose a threat. It’s essential to survival of the species. And yet, if allowed to run unchecked in our day to day dealings with others, we will come across as judgmental or even callous.

We all have things that bug us or “push our buttons.” Take some time to figure out what those “button pushers” are so that you are aware of your own knee-jerk reactions. Once aware, work to retrain the brain’s responses. That way you are more likely to keep from reacting negatively when you encounter them.

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Baird Consulting

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