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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

Picture by Salman Qadir

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?

Picture by Marco Verch

You can’t fix what you don’t know

Georgia has been waiting to see you for over an hour. She has been ignoring the pain in her side for days. Initially she hoped it would just go away. There is too much else to deal with. Josh her partner lost his job last week. Her mother had a stroke 3 weeks ago. Her dad is barely coping with caring for his disabled wife. The children are going to a new school this year and Emily (9) is having trouble settling into the new class. Meanwhile Georgia was hoping for a promotion at the office. With Josh out of work they need the money and it looks like she might now need to spend her weekends helping dad to manage at home. The pain in her side has got steadily worse and now it’s disturbing her at night. She mentioned it to her friend who forced her to make this appointment. Georgia doesn’t know her doctor well. She just wants this nightmare to end. She imagines this might be a urine infection but surely that wouldn’t last this long? She doesn’t want to think about the other possibilities. She especially doesn’t want to think about the lump she found in her right breast last month. She hasn’t told Josh she was coming to the clinic today and gave a vague impression that she needed to come to this end of town to collect something for work. She doesn’t want Josh to worry even though she thinks he might have noticed her holding her side while making the children’s lunch last night. Please let it be a urine infection so that a course of antibiotics will fix it. Georgia isn’t ready to handle any more bad news. A quick visit and a prescription is all she expects.

In 2 national, nonprobability online surveys of 4510 US adults, most participants reported withholding at least 1 of 7 types of medically relevant information, especially when they disagreed with the clinician’s recommendations or misunderstood the clinician’s instructions. The most commonly reported reasons for not disclosing information included not wanting to be judged or hear how harmful their behavior is. Levy et al

The outcome doctor is up to you but it all hinges on you being able to get the picture. Georgia isn’t sure she is going to tell you any of this even though she desperately needs someone to make it alright. Will you notice? Are you set up to receive the signals?

Picture by Drew Leavy

What happens next is up to you

Healthcare more than any other service warrants taking the long view. Supposing a toddler becomes feverish overnight. Mum and dad (assuming they are living together) are likely to fret about that child all night. No one will sleep well. The following day the parents will continue to worry that their baby is ill. Friends or family will be consulted. It is possible but not certain that a grandparent may be able to offer some relief with childcare.

Researchers in the United States have found that a third of children under the age of six receive up to 10 hours of care a week and that 47% of all grandparents with grandchildren (under 13 years) living nearby provide some childcare . Although more grandmothers (54%) provided child care it was found that grandfathers (38%) also made a significant contribution. In the United Kingdom it has been estimated that up to half of working parents rely on grandparent care for their children. It was also found that although grandparents were prepared to provide some child care, and at times even reduced their working hours to provide it, they did not want to give up their jobs. Australian Institute of family studies

The partner who has to go to work the next day will be distracted and anxious. The childcare arrangements, if that’s the norm will be on hold as one parent may take time off to be at home. The parents will visit a pharmacy (drug store) and acquire whatever is recommended in the hope that the child will recover quickly. That is unlikely as even a viral illness can make a child unwell for several days. Eventually they will seek medical advice. Phone calls will be made and appointments requested. Parent or parents and toddler will travel and wait in line to see a doctor. They will eventually wheel the toddler into a health practitioners room. If that person is you what happens next is up to you.  Most likely the child will have a viral illness, be teething or have some other minor illness. But to this family this will have been a stressful and worrying couple of days. How you respond will form their impression of your service and make a bad situation an opportunity to learn about caring for a sick child or add to the  drama.

Picture by Andrew Seaman

What is your approach to the biggest health risk of our time?

Sixty to eighty percent of people are now overweight or obese. This is associated with considerable morbidity. Yet it is a very complex issue and the causes of the condition are many and varied.

…..the dramatic rise in the incidence of obesity in many countries appears to be due to the complex interaction of a variety of factors including genetic, physiologic, environmental, psychological, social, economic, and political. Wright and Aronne

The experience of overweight people with healthcare professionals is not universally good.

Seventy‐six individuals (aged 16–72) were interviewed. Most had struggled with their weight for most of their lives (n = 45). Almost all had experienced stigma and discrimination in childhood (n = 36), as adolescents (n = 41) or as adults (n = 72). About half stated that they had been humiliated by health professionals because of their weight. Thomas et al

Over my whole 40 year dieting history I found two doctors who have said ‘well, come back once a week or once a fortnight and I will weigh you’. I found that very helpful and useful, because you feel like somebody is on your side. (65 year old female)

 They have helped because they guided me and pointed things out and they were there for me. If I’ve got questions they are helpful. (28 year old female)

 Oh well, I have spoken to my doctor about it and he just says get more exercise. I did mention it to one other doctor and he said there is only one way to lose weight and that’s meal replacement drinks or tablets. So I never went back to him because I don’t agree with that. (49 year old male)

 My doctor keeps saying, you need to lose weight. And I say, yes, I know that and I want to and I try to watch what I am eating, but it is just getting harder and harder. (59 year old female)

If you are a healthcare professional it is very likely that you will see several people today who are overweight or obese. How will you raise the topic with them? How will you know they want to address the issue? What help will your offer? How do you know you have been helpful to others in these circumstances?

Picture by Paola Kizette Cimenti

The doctor is a busy lady

My friend Alex is a good daughter. She would accompany her mother to the clinic for injections every two weeks. They would wait patiently in the waiting room before they were called in to have the treatment. Alex’s mother was a diabetic. Because of her treatment she needed regular meals. At one visit Alex went up to the reception desk and asked how long before it was her mother’s turn.

You see she is a diabetic and needs some food.

The response was jarring:

The doctor is a professor.  She is a very busy lady. She will see you when she is free.

Alex tells me that professor was a wonderful doctor and would have been horrified to hear that the receptionist had been so rude. Do you know what the person who saw you customer, client or patient just before you said to that person? Isn’t it your business to know?

Picture by Ronnie Scotch Finger

Trust me

Is there anything about how you appear today that might reduce your credibility with your client, customer or patient? Does anything about you diminish the impression you’d like to create?

A majority of participants reported that wearing an easy to read name tag (77%), neat grooming (65%), and professional dress (59%) were important when first meeting a family member’s ICU physician, while a minority felt that physician sex (3%), race (3%), age (10%), absence of visible tattoos (30%) and piercings (39%), or wearing a white coat (32%) were important.

Third, we affirmed that regardless of dress, professionalism, neat grooming, and a clear name tag are perceived as a requisite by patient families. These results suggest that while families may not express preferences for how physicians dress, there may be subconscious associations with well-recognized physician uniforms including white coats and scrubs. Given the importance of effective communication in the ICU, physicians may want to consider that their attire could influence family rapport, trust, and confidence. Selena Au

Picture by Rodrigo Santos

Show and tell

Nothing is as compelling as seeing a vision of  yourself in the future. Increasingly healthcare professionals have the scope to offer people a vision of the future. It’s possible to display projected changes on avatars, websites or infographics. How might you show people what might happen in the foreseeable future?

Recent literature shows that new technologies can be used to promote patient engagement. The present contribution focuses on Virtual Worlds (VWs), namely virtual environments that multiple users can experience together thanks to the use of avatars. Indeed, VWs offer interesting opportunities for patient engagement interventions on two levels. On the individual level, customized avatars are known to have relationships with users’ inner experience and Self-conception, so that they may constitute a peculiar additional tool for psychological assessment. Moreover, they are able to promote healthy behaviors thanks to a strong vicarious reinforcement (Proteus effect). On the collective level, VWs constitute an ideal platform to support the emergence of collective flow states (Networked Flow) which are related to the patients’ creative activity and well-being. Healthy Avatars, Healthy People: Care Engagement Through the Shared Experience of Virtual Worlds

Picture by Trina Alexander

Do you bring more than your body to work?

Things happen at home. They happen now and they happened in the past. A child gets sick, a parent dies, a partner leaves you, a bill is overdue, a neighbour causes hassle. You end up in hospital, you get a parking ticket, you win a prize, you get picked for a team, your application gets rejected . Good things, bad things or just ‘things’. Be honest- how much of this plays on your mind as you serve your next customer, client or patient? How do you handle that? Do you take the backpack off before you get to the office, clinic or shop?

Picture by Neil Moralee

Steep hill but nice view

On this beautiful earth it is not long before you have to climb a hill to enjoy the view. Where in your job is extra effort required to get to the end of the day? What makes it harder? Could it be the voice in your head telling you that this particular ‘hill’ was specifically designed to make life harder for you? Is it because you were not anticipating any ‘hills’. Are you on the wrong road? Do you need to get fitter? Is hill climbing not for you? Could it be that the view is not worth the effort?

Here’s a perspective from Jonathan Mead

Picture by  Tejvan Pettinger