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What did you expect yesterday?

As you walked through the front doors at work yesterday what were your expectations? Were you hoping:

  1. To serve to the best of your ability
  2. To learn something new
  3. To enjoy good company doing something meaningful
  4. To make a difference to someone
  5. To earn a big pay cheque
  6. To pass the time before home time
  7. Something else?

Which was it? How did you feel at the end of the day? How do you think those who interacted with you felt at the end of the day?

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Do you see how that happened?

You may face may challenges or have an unexpected outcome following your interaction with your customer, client or patient. As a healthcare professional these are opportunities to reflect on how an event unfolded, how you were feeling at the time and how you are feeling afterwards. Consider then how those emotions play out through the course of the day. Given that most  outcomes in healthcare are moderated by an interaction with a health professional it is important to ensure that the health professional is attuned to their inner world. We can’t change many things as providers of health services but we can look within.

Know what causes your negative emotions, and which types of feelings you face most often. When those emotions begin to appear, immediately start your strategy to interrupt the cycle. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to pull yourself away from negative thinking. Mindtools

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Is normal too thin?

Try this experiment. If you are tending to overweight ( Body Mass Index (BMI) 25 or over) then try to get to BMI 18.5 -24.9.  If you succeed people will decide you have lost ‘too much weight’  even when your BMI is in the middle of the normal range. If normal was defined as ‘what is most common’ then to have a ‘normal’ BMI is unusual and we may have become blind to normal so that what we perceive as ‘normal’ is not ideal. Rates of overweight and obesity are now at 60-70%.

In an Australian study on the public perception of body size the authors report that:

Overweight participants were also most likely to incorrectly identify themselves as a healthy weight (67 per cent, p<0.001), compared to 12 per cent of obese participants . The majority (89 per cent) of normal weight participants accurately identified themselves as being a healthy weight. Flanagan et al

Therefore it is not surprising that when people are challenged about their weight in healthcare they are reluctant to identify the issue as a problem.

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Mobile phones aren’t allowed in the operating room.

Before a surgeon gets anywhere near a patient in the operating theatre he must wash his hands, put on a gown and gloves. He then drapes the patient and cleans the skin. As he makes his first incision there is no mobile phone on the table, he banishes all distractions and appreciates that the job isn’t over until he has sutured the wound. Whatever you do for a living how do you approach the job? If you adopted rituals would you perform better? Bacteria can destroy a surgeons work. What contaminates your work and how does that manifest in your results?

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Do you know their secret fear?

Do you know why your customer, client or patient chose you today? If you are his doctor John made an appointment this morning because he thinks he may have an inherited illness. His uncle recently died from this condition and it all started with weakness in his arm. John has noticed that he has pain and weakness in his right arm when he lifts heavy things at work. This morning he nearly dropped the kettle when making a cup of tea. He isn’t going to tell you what he is worried about but he expects you will tell him he doesn’t have that condition after all the tests you will perform right? His uncle had lots of blood tests and scans.

In quite a number of contacts with a new reason for an encounter (22%), the ideas, concerns, or expectations of the patient remain undisclosed. A second main finding is that the expression of concerns and/or expectations is correlated with fewer prescriptions (univariate, logistic regression analysis, and also after exclusion of patients without an ‘a priori need for medication’). Although the causal relationship remains uncertain, the observations may indicate that systematically disclosing the patients’ real expectations and concerns could lead to less medication use. Matthys et al

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Would it be easier if I went home and skyped you?

When I am sick or worried I need you to look at me. I know you need to maintain my records doctor but while you are doing that it isn’t helping me to tell my story. Wasn’t that the point of me being here? Would it be easier if we both looked in the same place through a screen?

The non-verbal behaviour of doctors themselves is easily overlooked in communication research. Many instruments for measuring qualities such as patient centredness are designed to be applied to audio rather than video tapes, and questionnaires for patients may not be sufficiently detailed to seek their views on this area. However, an increasing body of work over the last 20 years has demonstrated the relationship between doctors’ non-verbal communication (in the form of eye-contact, head nods and gestures, position and tone of voice) with the following outcomes: patient satisfaction, patient understanding, physician detection of emotional distress, and physician malpractice claim history. Although more work needs to be done, there is now significant evidence that doctors need to pay considerable attention to their own non-verbal behavior. Silverman and Kinnersley

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Small details matter

It’s a small detail. If you are accompanying someone down a corridor as a healthcare professional- don’t stride ahead. Ideally walk alongside the person or let them lead the way if they know where you are headed. If they are wheeling a buggy and carrying a bag offer to help by wheeling the buggy.  Just try it. You might like how they respond. Apart from that you can learn so much about the person even before the consultation begins:

So instead of a doctor assessing a patient’s blood pressure, body mass index, chronic conditions, hospitalization and smoking history and use of mobility aids to estimate survival, a lab assistant could simply time the patient walking a few meters and predict just as accurately the person’s likelihood of living five or 10 more years—as well as a median life expectancy. Scientific American

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Let’s do it my way this time

Occasionally your customer, client or patient will come with their mind made up. Nothing you will say will make a difference to what they feel they need. In healthcare if what they want is going to harm them you will be duty bound to refuse just as you might refuse to serve alcohol to a drunk. But occasionally it may be difficult to argue.

Just one other thing, doctor, I need this wart burnt off.

Her doctor noticed the simple wart on her finger.

How about we try something that might be just as good? How about you try taping banana peel on this every night for a week. It will be far less uncomfortable and you might be surprised that the wart will just fall off.

Sure doctor. But today can we just burn it off and then if it comes back we might try the banana?

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How do you contribute on the journey?

It is unlikely that you will be part of every encounter with the customer, client or patient whatever you do and wherever you work. A barista is not at the table with the customer is presented with their breakfast; a dressmaker isn’t at the checkout when the customer makes their purchase at a department store. Sooner or later you won’t be there in person. However it is likely that whatever you’ve contributed will have an impact. How do you define your role from this perspective in healthcare?

The participants—21 family physicians (fps), 15 surgeons, 12 medical oncologists, 6 radiation oncologists, and 4 general practitioners in oncology—were asked to describe both the role that fps currently play and the role that, in their opinion, fps should play in the future care of cancer patients across the cancer continuum. Participants identified 3 key roles: coordinating cancer care, managing comorbidities, and providing psychosocial care to patients and their families. However, fps and specialists discussed many challenges that prevent fps from fully performing those roles:

  • The fps described communication problems resulting from not being kept “in the loop” because they weren’t copied on patient reports and also the lack of clearly defined roles for all the various health care providers involved in providing care to cancer patients.

  • The specialists expressed concerns about a lack of patient access to fp care, leaving specialists to fill the care gaps. Easley et al

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What’s on display where you work?

What do your customers, clients or patients see in your shop, café or clinic? Why was it put on display? Does it add value? Does it distract? How do you know?

“People draw opinions about who we are and how we operate based on what our space looks like, sounds like and even smells like,” says Jen Zobel Bieber, a New York-based life coach. Forbes

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