We are in the season of light. While the physical world gets darker toward the longest day of the year on December 22, our hearts and souls light up during a season of sharing and giving with family and friends. Working together is a key value, one that should be applied to the relationships among medical personnel, patients, and caregivers. In past articles, I’ve discussed the importance of collaboration for patient and caregiver wellness. Enlightened conversation brings collaboration to life, taking some of the stress of dealing with a loved one’s illness.
In a recent article, (Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2010) entitled “Why Doctors Make Mistakes”, one key category identified that “Patient Behavior” accounted for 46% of those mistakes. The statistic underscores our influence as caregivers even more. We have the capacity and potential to set the tone and influence the behaviors of our loved ones and friends, and by extension, to influence their healing. Your influence and use of appropriate, enlightened communications, especially in a healthcare setting, is critical in guiding collaboration and exchange of ideas. You can ensure that communications are productive rather than dysfunctional as we journey through the holiday season and into the new year.
A poignant example from my family comes to mind. My father, a rather grumpy guy on occasion, made it difficult for his hospice nurses to give him a bath. He said things like, “You always use that scratchy washcloth!” I knew that he was only succeeding in driving the nurses from caring so much for an irritating old man. So I said to Dad, “Tomorrow, let’s be sure to tell the nurses how much we appreciate them.” Dad said, “But I have a complaint!” At that point, I suggested that we practice using an “I” message like, “That scratchy cloth hurts my skin.” or “That cloth feels scratchy”. The next day, we tried our new and improved statements--they worked! The nurses took the feedback and always made sure, from that point on, to have only soft, cuddly material next to Dad.
If caregivers, patients, and families regularly confront their doctors, nurses, and social workers with accusatory and demanding language, professional personnel will spend less time interacting with you, the patient, and your family. Remembering that we are all human and that we all respond to affirmation and positive questioning will help to ensure the best outcome.
The following statements/questions DO NOT bring out the best in anyone, including medical personnel:
How could you make an incorrect diagnosis?
So what are you going to do about ______?
We’re going to sit here until you make the change in the chart.
Why doesn’t anyone in this hospital care?
We’re going to call our attorney if you don’t bring in ______.
You didn’t mention all the options for treatment that I saw on the internet.
The above statements/questions destroy the potential for collaboration. They assume that mistakes will be made and accuse rather build strategies and solutions.
So what are ways to increase and develop enlightened collaboration among formal and informal caregivers? Honesty on all sides is certainly the way forward but expressed from a caring and sharing motive. Statements/questions that preserve and build relationships for higher quality health outcomes are:
I need more information before I make the decision.
I appreciate all you’ve done and I think my husband needs even more attention from staff.
So are you saying that we have two options?
I am concerned that bringing in a specialist will mean that I won’t see my primary doctor as often.
I would like to review all the options with my family before making the decision.
If we compare the two sets of statements, it’s clear that expressing your point of view rather than accusing another person about your concerns/views will lead to better outcomes. I even feel less stressed when I read the second set of statements/questions!
I encourage you to use the second set as a template. Simply insert information pertinent to your situation. As you encounter stressful medical situations, stating concerns/opinions from your point of view will put everyone more at ease and will allow your medical caregivers to make more rational decisions, be more vigilant on your behalf, and more responsive to the needs of the patient. You will also be an effective model for your loved one/patient who probably is following your lead.
As we approach the holiday season, light is one of the symbols of the season. I believe that with “enlightened” communications, you as caregivers set the stage for peace and harmony. Happy holidays to everyone!!
Margery Pabst is the co-author of “Enrich Your Caregiving Journey”, the winner of the “2010 Caregiver Friendly Award” given by Today’s Caregiver Magazine and caregiving.com. The book provides tools and tips for caring for yourself while caring for others. To find out more about Margery and the book, go to www.pivotalcrossings.com.