Monday, August 19, 2013

Talking to Patients a Possible Miracle Cure?

I didn't write my blogs last week because a friend (I'll call her Mary) was in the hospital and that required my focus.

Being admitted to the hospital unexpectedly is frightening, particularly if, like Mary, one has never been there before. As the nurses and aides move through their prescribed routine, I saw lots of pleasant faces but very little communication.

It all began in the emergency room where the doctor took one look at Mary and announced she would be admitted immediately. In her mind, her condition was now dire and the trepidation she already felt was augmented by the very real fear of death. 

After Mary was taken up to her room, there was the usual bustle as she was hooked up to the equipment. Oxygen levels were measured; blood pressure taken. And then the heart monitor. She was in for a severe infection so the heart monitor added to Mary's alarm. Not knowing she could and should ask questions, she accepted all this mutely, all the while her anxiety building.

Next came the very pleasant aide, wheeling in her cart-mounted computer. She  went about her admission routine with great humor and charm. But have you ever really thought about those questions or why they are being asked? Imagine that you are hearing them for the first time? How would you feel?

After running through all the questions and confirming the medications Mary was currently taking, the aide listed the drugs my friend would be given. Mary went white as she tried to understand why the hospital was about to administer things that had nothing to do with her condition and which might interact with something she was already taking. Fortunately, she refused two of them because a later check with her own physician verified that these drugs would have been inappropriate.

Watching all this confirmed my feelings about our medical system. We have the latest and greatest technology available to us and that saves lives, no doubt about it. But there is still little communication between the patient and the medical staff treating that person. Not once did anyone stop during their per-ordained process and actually talk to Mary. No one discussed what was happening in her body, how serious it was, and the likelihood that the treatment plan would be successful.  She was left wondering if she had enough time to get her affairs in order. 

Everyone agrees that a good mental attitude is critical to the healing process. If we do not have a positive outlook and believe we will get well, our recovery can be severely hampered. Why not, then, take five minutes and address the patient's emotional condition as well as her physical one. 

A little communication could be the miracle cure everyone wants.

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