Editor’s note: “Everything We Say and Do” provides readers with thoughtful and actionable communication tactics that can positively impact patients’ experience of care. In the current series of columns, physicians share how their experiences as patients have shaped their professional approach.
I have been fortunate to have had very few major health issues throughout my life. I have, however, had three major surgical procedures in the last 10 years – two total hip arthroplasties and a cataract removal with lens implant in between. The most recent THA was October 2017. Going through each procedure helped me see things from a patient’s perspective, and that showed me how important little things are to a patient, things which we may not think are all that big a deal as a provider.
Almost all of the medical personnel who came to care for me during my stays identified themselves and why they were there, and that made me feel comfortable, knowing who they were and their role. However, there were a few who did not do this, and that made me uncomfortable, not knowing who they were and why they were in my room. Not knowing is an uncomfortable feeling for a patient.
Almost every registered nurse who came to me with medication explained what the medicine was and why they were administering it, with the exception of one preop RN I met before to my cataract procedure. She walked up to me, told me to open my eye wide, held the affected eye open, and started dripping cold drops into my eye without explanation. She then said she would be back every 10 minutes to repeat the process. I had to inquire as to what the medication was and why there was a need for this process. It was a jolting experience, and she showed no compassion toward me as a patient or a person, even after I inquired.
This was not a good experience. Although cataract surgery was a totally new experience for me, she had obviously done this many times before and had to do it many times that day. However, she acted as if I should have known what she was going to do and as if she need not explain herself to anyone – which she did not, even after being queried.
Everyone during the admission process for all three procedures was solicitous and warm except for one person. Unfortunately, this individual was the first person to greet my wife and me when we arrived for my last total hip arthroplasty. She was seated at the welcome desk with her head down. After we arrived, she kept her head down and asked “How can I help you?” without ever looking up. I did not realize how unwelcome I would feel when the first person I encountered in the surgical preop admissions area failed to make eye contact with me. Her demeanor was nice enough, but she did not even attempt to make a personal connection with me – and she was at the welcome desk!