Be Careful When Relating to Patients & Families Post-Event
A few weeks ago after wrapping up a talk to a group of practice administrators, a woman came up to me in tears and explained how she is suing a doctor over the death of her husband but everything would have been much different if the doctor had simply said "sorry" and communicated post-event. Before I could get a word out, a gentleman standing behind the woman walked up beside her, told her he was "sorry" for her loss, put his arm around the woman, and then went on to explain how he understood her pain because his wife is a doctor and she is currently fighting a frivolous lawsuit! The woman's facial expression and body language read sheer horror as she tried to wiggle out of the guy's hug. Sensing his words of comfort missed the mark, the gentlemen quickly tried to recover by saying her lawsuit wasn't frivolous, but without missing a beat he quickly focused back on his wife by continuing to yammer on about the frivolous lawsuit that had been filed against her. I'm not making this up! Look, not every example of poorly chosen words of comfort will be as blatant as the story above, but even the subtle misses can hurt patients and families. During my brother's funeral, some people told my Mother they understood her pain because they, for example, had lost their elderly mother recently or something to that effect. No, no, no. Until you have lost a child (or a brother) you have no idea what that pain is like, so don't try to say you understand...because you don't! Instead, say you are sorry, offer what help you can, and listen. Be there for the person...sometimes that's all you can do. Important lesson here for front-line staff.
Now, if, for example, you are dealing with a husband who just lost his wife and the doctor lost his own wife six months ago, there may be a chance for the two parties to relate. If done well, it can be very powerful for both the family member and the doctor. Tread carefully, though.
Moral of the story is we need to teach front-line staff to be very careful when trying to relate with patients and families post-event. If you are not sure, settle for the field goal and score some much needed points with empathy and other forms of pro-active behavior.
Speaking of training front-line staff on disclosure, remember on December 5th and 6th at 1pm EST/10am PST, we are holding preview webinars of our new on-line disclosure training program. We developed this program with ELM Exchange, the leading provider of on-line training for doctors and nurses. This CME-accredited program will teach your front-line staff the disclosure basics of empathy and how to stay connected post-event in an economic and scalable fashion. This is the way to get all of your doctors and nurses trained on disclosure, and also train the new hires down the road! To register for either preview webinar, simply e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-559-8168.