I discovered years ago that it is really important to connect the brain to the mouth before the latter starts moving. Most of us develop an internal filter that starts working at an early age and, with any luck, continues to function throughout our lives. That filter can save us from embarrassment at the very least, and law suits in worst case scenarios. Unfortunately, we all have those nasty little lapses when we find ourselves prying the proverbial foot out of the mouth.
If you work in health care, you had better have a good filter in place because patients and concerned family members need your reassurance and support. If I could teach health care workers just one thing, it would be to make sure that every word and action that they display should build patients’ trust. Having good internal filters running in high gear is a good start.
A few months ago, my brother, who was undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, contracted pneumonia while visiting family in Florida. He went to the nearest hospital. He had a high fever, chills and violent cough. The ER physician expressed concern about his debilitated state and admitted him immediately to begin IV antibiotics. He was admitted to a nursing unit, and was greeted by a nurse. She entered the room yawning and said, “Sorry. I’m just exhausted. I’ve been here over 12 hours already. We’re really short staffed and I’m working a double.”
My brother’s reaction? He and his wife both thought, “Oh great, we’re going to get really good care. We have an over-worked, exhausted nurse. This isn’t going to be good.”
The family pointed out to the nurse that the IV bag was empty. The nurse asked, “do you know what I am supposed to hang? Did the ER doctor say anything?” Again, their reaction was a combination of irritation and anxiety. They thought, “Why was the nurse asking THEM what the doctor ordered? Didn’t the nursing unit and ER communicate? Who was in charge of the care here?” At that point, both my brother and his wife had little confidence that they had made the right choice in going to the hospital for help. The family felt more vulnerable than before he was admitted.
Consider the Patient Perspective
If I could rewind that scenario and talk with the nurse in advance, I’d ask her to consider the patient’s perspective first and foremost. I’d ask her what impression she’d like to leave with her patients. Then I’d ask her to think of statements and actions that would reinforce the desired impression. In doing so, I’d be helping this nurse to set up that vital filter for her words and actions. The result would be a much more positive patient experience.
These are the kinds of situations that make health care leaders shudder. All it takes is one staff person without an internal filter to set you up for problems ranging from a nasty complaint to a full-blown law suit. Help your staff to see the importance of good filtering. One trick is to consider these questions before opening your mouth: