Don’t Say That!

Posted by Kristin Baird

We’re understaffed – 3 words that shake patient confidence

I cannot think of one time in my career when I heard caregivers complain about being overstaffed. Being understaffed, however is a daily occurrence in hospitals and medical practices across the country.  Staff are often running to keep up with the workload.

Although being understaffed is a common occurrence, no good comes from sharing that fact with the patients. When you tell a patient or a family that you do not have the staff, they fear that their needs won’t be met. It can even dissuade some inpatients from putting on their call light because they don’t want to overburden the nurses. In other cases, patients will be more apt to put on their call light when they worry that they are competing for the nurse’s attention. In medical practices, telling patients that you are shorthanded may just make the practice look disorganized or ill-prepared to manage patients.

Last week I was doing observations at a medical practice. The team was short staff due to vacation and illness. When a patient walked in for a routine blood draw she was told that they were short staffed and therefore couldn’t do the blood draw. The patient rolled her eyes and said, “Unbelievable.” It was obvious from her reaction that she was put out by the situation. And no wonder. She had been told that she could come any time for her blood draw.

What to do instead

In this case, telling the patient that you are shorthanded doesn’t serve you or the patient well. Instead of telling the patient that you are short staffed (which is about you), turn the message into a patient-focused one such as, “Mrs. Jones, having your blood drawn today would be a long wait for you. Out of respect for your time, I suggest that you come in another day this week. What would work best for you?”  This makes the message more about the patient and their time rather than your scheduling shortfall.

There are many times in healthcare when we cannot give a patient exactly what they request. We can however, re-frame our response to focus on them.

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