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Connecting with Patients is Key

Posted By Tom Scaletta MD CPXP, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Updated: Thursday, February 15, 2018

I think everyone today can agree on the importance of having communication tools to interact with patients and family members. However, in the era of value-based healthcare, doing a good job interacting with patients is not nearly enough.

At my organization, we have created a simple communication tool called G.R.E.A.T.™ that will help inspire a service-minded culture. This service standard helped us align our mission/vision/values with our culture and leads to enhanced patient satisfaction, improved care quality and a more engaged staff. Connecting on a deeper level with our patients and being mindful of their understanding of what is going on are essential components in achieving optimal outcomes.

A key component of the G.R.E.A.T. ™ is the ‘R’ that stands for ‘relate.’ To truly connect to our patients (or their family members), it is essential to have a personal conversation separate from the medical issues (of course, assuming the patient is not in any immediate distress). 

An easy way to create a rapport with patients, across generations, is to ask about one’s aspirations or accomplishments.

  • With younger patients, “What profession are you planning?”
  • With middle-agers, “What is your profession?” and
  • With older patients, “What was your profession?”

Such questions typically leads to some back-and-forth banter that creates a nice bond. You will find you like the patient more … and they will like you more. The content of the conversation is not important though it must be authentic and empathetic. This type of interchange will create trust, the foundation of the people experience, that of both patients and providers. 

These conversations are beneficial not only for the patient but also the providers of care. A great patient experience requires a great provider experience and a great provider experience requires a great patient experience. The closer you get to your patients the further you get from burnout.

I would like to share a story of this in practice. I was working a typical emergency department shift with a great team and had a steady influx of patients all evening. At 8 pm paramedics rolled in with an elderly, demented lady from a nursing home with right-sided weakness that began yesterday. A CT scan uncovered a golf-ball sized tumor with swelling. She had a history of breast cancer so this likely represented a metastatic lesion. Typical care ensued -- fluids, steroids, comfort medications and a call to the hospitalist for admission.

I then phoned the patient's daughter (and power of attorney) to suggest that she and other family members begin discussing how aggressive they wanted the treatment plan to be. The daughter interrupted, "Doctor, could you just go to my mom's bedside and say 'Dr. Peters, you were right'?" After my "Huh?" she explained "My mom is smart and knows her body. She has a PhD in both psychology and religion. Last month, a doctor told us she has progressive, incurable dementia. When he left the room my mom turned to me and said 'Well, yes, I'm certainly more confused but I'm not demented. They just haven't figured out what this is.'"

So, I went to her room, sat down, described the situation, and ended with "Dr. Peters, you were right." She turned to me beaming with pride and confidence and said "I knew it!" 

She certainly did.

I slipped a copy of her CV that I found online into her chart. I wanted everyone to know this amazing woman that all of us were privileged to care for.

Tom Scaletta, MD CPXP CPPS, obtained an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science and worked as an computer programmer before entering medical school. He completed a residency at Northwestern and is board-certified in emergency medicine and clinical informatics. Tom serves as the emergency department chairperson and medical director of patient experience for Edward Elmhurst Health. While President of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Tom collaborated with the Emergency Nurses Association to create a Code of Professional Conduct. His white papers, “The Seven Pillars of Emergency Medicine Excellence” and “The Calculus of Patient Satisfaction,” were published by Medscape. Tom designed the first patient callback system in 1996 and the first automated means of text/email contact and staff notification in 2012. His models were praised by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urgent Matters (George Washington University), an organization that evaluates emergency medicine innovations.

Tags:  communication  connection  empathy  patient experience  provider experience 

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