When I look back at the numerous (i.e. far too many) encounters I have had with healthcare professionals, some stand out. Fortunately, a lot of the time it is because the care I have received has been outstanding and delivered by wonderfully caring and respectful professionals. But there have been times where the experience was no so good.
One of the stories I tell when speaking to medical students about what makes for good communication comes from a very difficult time. I was in hospital with terrible stomach issues. A new doctor had been referred to me and for the ease of this tale, we will call him Professor Poor Communication Skills – Prof PCS for short.
Prof PCS was an expert in his field and by the end of my time in hospital, I actually quite liked him. He was loud and direct and I appreciated his no-messing-around attitude. Plus, he worked out what was wrong with my stomach, stopped the pain and got me out of hospital.
However, it took a while – and a little bit of coaching – for me to come to like him.
When Prof PCS came to see me for the first time I had already been in hospital for about a week. I went through what had been going on and he ordered a few blood tests and x-rays. With that, he promised to return the following day with the results. I didn’t really mind the way that he blustered in and out in a flash and didn’t explain anything because really, there was nothing to explain! I didn’t mind that he didn’t give me details of the tests he was running because I could kind or work them out and figured I could ask questions the next day.
I didn’t really care for the way he had stormed in and not introduced himself. Or the way he didn’t make eye contact when he spoke.
The next day came and I waited for him to do his rounds. Late in the afternoon, I heard his booming voice in the corridor. I remember thinking that he was speaking terribly loudly to his patient about their test results and that everyone could hear.
As he rounded the corner into my room, I realised that he had been talking about my test results. By the time he was standing at the end of my bed, he was halfway through a sentence and announcing all sorts of things that didn’t make sense because I had kind of missed the beginning of what he had been trying to say.
I looked at the nurse who was standing slightly behind him. I was confused. And I was actually a little angry.
‘Excuse me,’ I said to him. And then repeated myself. ‘Excuse. Me.’
‘Yes?’ I don’t think he was used to being interrupted because he looked a little surprised.
‘Hi,’ I said. ‘Can we just stop for a second?’ I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts and started.
‘For this to work,’ I waved my hands between the two of us. ‘I need you to be in the same room that I am in. I need to be able to see you when you speak. I need to be able to ask you questions and be clear that you are speaking to me. I need to see your body language and your eyes and be clear about what you are saying. I do not want you to start your consultation with me whilst you are still in the corridor. Is that okay?’
He looked stunned and completely lost for words. The nurse smiled.
I can’t believe that I was the first person to have ever pulled him up on this behaviour, but when he left the room (after explaining things very clearly, answering my questions and telling me what I could expect next) the nurse said that she had never seen him look stunned before. She also said that other patients had commented on how uncomfortable they were with his ‘bedside manner’, but no one had ever commented on it directly to him.
I was reminded of this encounter the other day when I was reading about Kate Granger and her #HelloMyNameIs campaign.
Kate is a doctor – a geriatrician and a writer. She is also has terminal cancer.
When she was an inpatient, she noticed that many of the healthcare professionals looking after her did not introduce themselves. She had no idea who was speaking to her about her care. She (and her husband) decided to do something about it. This from the #HelloMyNameIs website:
‘…we decided to start a campaign to encourage and remind healthcare staff about the importance of introductions in the delivery of care. I firmly believe it is not just about knowing someone’s name, but it runs much deeper. It is about making a human connection, beginning a therapeutic relationship and building trust. In my mind it is the first rung on the ladder to providing compassionate care.’
It’s incredible how such a simple idea has taken flight. Events have been held throughout the UK and there have been over 800 million impressions on social media. The more I have read, the more amazed I am at just how far-reaching this initiative is and how entrenched it has become in some places.
It is indeed wonderful.
However it is also kind of shocking that we need a campaign to remind people to introduce themselves and remember the importance of taking the time to connect with people at a time where they are possibly feeling very vulnerable and scared.
The next time I speak with medical and nursing students about effective communication, I will be holding up #HelloMyNameIs as an example of doing things right. And it will be the perfect anecdote to balance out the Prof PCS story.