The expression, “Actions speak louder than words,” is one that we’ve used for generations to encourage us to practice what we preach. But the same adage can be applied during patient interactions as well. Patient and family’s non-verbal communication speak volumes during even the shortest encounters and can provide us with cues that help us deliver the most personalized care. The challenge is that we have to be astute enough to make the observation and sensitive enough to quickly interpret and respond which requires emotional intelligence.
A few weeks ago when doing some shadow coaching with nurses on their unit, I had a great opportunity to help a young nurse improve her observational skills. This young nurse was clinically adept and confident in those skills. She did a thorough assessment of the patient’s clinical condition and asked all the right questions. But other than a polite greeting, had little interaction with the patient’s wife who was sitting at her critically ill husband’s side. I had noticed the woman looked exhausted and worried.
As the nurse was about to leave the room, I turned to the wife, pulled over a chair and asked, “How are you doing? This has to be tough on you.” The wife burst into tears and with little encouragement, shared how difficult the hospitalization was for her. She told us that just a week ago, her vibrant and energetic husband was out biking and running before a devastating injury that put him into the hospital. She told us that the discharge was scheduled for later that day and she was terrified for him to be sent to a nursing home where she was not confident in the care. Same issue happens often when looking for the care for seniors (source: Home Care for Seniors in Vancouver).
The encounter gave us the opportunity to support the family and arrange for further discussion with the discharge planner.
After we left the room, the young nurse asked, “How did you know she was upset?” I told her that every encounter is an opportunity to listen with your eyes. The wife’s non-verbal communication, posture and facial expression, told me she was tired, worried and upset. All I needed to do, was to ask an open-ended question in a compassionate tone, and give her a cue that I was there for her.
There is always so much to learn from patients and families when we listen carefully with both our ears and eyes.