Katie Owens - Healthcare Speaker and Executive Coach

Lead Author, The HCAHPS Imperative for Patient-Centered Excellence

Tag: Communication

Four Lessons United Airlines Can Teach on the Importance of Person-Centered Communication in Healthcare

Effective communication is always determined in retrospect.

Communication is usually determined through the rear-view mirror. Did our town hall convey the tone and vision intended? Did the patient understand not only the importance of taking their medications but the instructions for following correct dosage? Did the employee hear the difficult feedback in a way that will lead to constructive outcomes? My belief is that every United Airlines team member had the best intentions when following their protocol. However, they missed the mark in that trust and relationships are the foundations of communication.

Despite our best intentions, good communication happens through the eyes of the beholder(s).

We may believe we are good communicators but do our recipients of the message agree? While Stephen Covey famously said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviors,” we need to remember that United Airlines flipped this scenario. These employees and leaders, while following the integrity of their policy, neglected to account for how passengers, the media and consumers at large would judge their behaviors. Real-time video has allowed us to get a glimpse into a precarious situation. We need to remember that we are always on stage in this virtual age. Are our actions always displaying trust and respect for our patients, their loved ones and our visitors? While our missions should prohibit us from ever “re-accommodating” a patient, chances are we use words that could inadvertently leave a negative mark on the healthcare community.

We must pick ourselves back up off the floor (sometimes more often than we’d like to admit).

Even the pros mess up. United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, has a reputation for being an effective communicator and feel confident their airline is made up of hard-working, well-intentioned employees. Negative things happen in travel and in healthcare. More important than the gaffe itself, are the demonstrable steps organizations and individuals take to persevere afterwards.

Think this can only happen to United Airlines? Think again.

We operate 24/7, every day of each year. Our patients and their loved ones can now share good, bad and shocking information with a snap of a mobile device. In our work, we have found it essential to establish person-centeredness as an integral value and a communication competency that needs to be cultivated by every individual who wears a badge in your organization. We recommend two proven models: Language of Caring’s Heart-Head-Heart for person-centered communication and HealthStream’s RELATE for person-centered behaviors. Seek out opportunities to institute deliberate practice and cultivate communication competencies for not just regular daily needs but simulate crisis scenarios.

Consider using two criteria: are my words and actions building trust? Am I displaying caring and compassion? At the end of the day, every person we encounter gives us the opportunity to display trust, respect, and compassion. We need to be ever more vigilant when we feel we are sliding into territory that could lead to irrevocable circumstances.

Patient-Centered Communication: Verbalizing while using EHRs

Effective patient-centered communication is the foundation of high-quality healthcare. Nearly all healthcare interactions — from making appointments and registering to discussing medical symptoms, treatments and care options — rely on effective communication. Technology, in particular, electronic health records (EHRs), holds the power to improve our communication with our fellow healthcare providers and our communication with patients and their loved ones or denigrate it.

While electronic health records can create the opportunity for real-time documentation and information sharing, we must leverage this tool to enhance our interactions with patients. At HealthStream Engagement Institute, we recommend three important tools to support the intersection of EHRs and patient-centered communication:

1. Use “words that work,” ban “words that don’t work” and take advantage of your investments in leading technology to provide the best patient care possible.
Words

patient-centered communication

Words that work are designed to create a positive impression of your organization; however, words that don’t work are likely embedded in your organization as well (especially when it comes to EHR technology). By working with and engaging your teams, you can identify the words that don’t work, create crosswalks to words that do work and have fun in the process.

2. Narrate your care and process: Explain every step. Whether you are entering demographic information at admission, conducting bedside shift reports or validating medications, we cannot assume patients understand the intricacies of care delivery.

3. Use RELATE, our patient-centered communication model, to engage patients while documenting their care electronically.

Reassure: Discuss the importance of bedside documentation to assure the highest quality care. Verbalize your commitment to quality. Acknowledge any fear or anxiety a patient or their loved ones may be feeling.

Explain: Explain the process for documentation and how the information will be used.

Listen: Listen for any questions the patient may have about charting, care delivery.

Answer: Answer their questions in easy to understand terms. If possible, use techniques like “teach back” to validate the patient’s understanding of your explanations.

Take action: Narrate your care and process every step of the way.

Express appreciation: Thank the patient for the opportunity to participate in their care.

 

Katie Owens is Vice President at HealthStream Engagement Institute. She works with senior teams to front line staff to establish alignment and engagement and coaches how measurement and data influence behaviors and drive outcomes for patients and their families.

Published in EHR Intelligence, 2014

https://ehrintelligence.com/news/patient-centered-communication-verbalizing-while-using-ehrs/