These days I am very attuned to how medical staff create (or not) high quality connections with patients and their families. Last year our family spent lots of time in the hospital with our daughter and premie grandson which made all the research I had read about concerning the importance of the human connection between doctor and patient a vivid reality.
This year, as part of my semi-retirement gig, I am getting tuned up with hearing aids, cataract surgery and other available upgrades that come along with aging. In these more routine medical encounters I am still stunned by the immediate impacts of high quality human connections. I will use my experience with cataract surgery yesterday to animate what we know from research.
High quality connections as a form of social support can buffer people from stress. The nurse who greeted me to take me back to the procedure remembered I was here before. She reassured me that the second surgery is a breeze. First moments of connection matter. This was a strengthening start.
High quality connections can alter the experience of pain. I am one of those people who has slippery veins making the insertion of an IV a bit more painful. The nurse who did this part of the procedure introduced herself as the slippery vein specialist and talked to me in a calming and caring voice as she engaged her search. The procedure went quickly and smoothly and produced little pain.
High quality connections foster a sense of psychological safety. Hospitals are scary places and a high quality connection or two is likely to increase our sense that it is safe to speak up, to ask questions and to express our ideas about what might be helpful in this medical encounter. I did just that and felt more in control and calmer throughout the process.
High quality connections foster resilience . After any medical procedure, we vary in how quickly we bounce back to our normal state of functioning. For me, there was a definite difference in how resilient I was in response to the two surgeries for my two eyes. While there is lots of alternative explanations for these differences, my medical encounter for my second surgery was marked by many more high quality connections from start to finish, helping to explain my faster and more complete rebound.
When you add these impacts up, medical encounters (routine and non-routine) can really impact patients’ and families’ capacities to self-strengthen during an encounter and heal afterwards. Encounters marked by these forms of generative connections leave patients and their families/friends much better off than people in encounters that lack these connections.
So what can we do about this? First, I think noticing the connection efforts that people are making during medical encounters and giving them feedback is a wonderful start. Second, fill out those comment/feedback surveys or cards to let the institution know that the high quality connections present during a medical procedure made a difference to your patient experience (patient experience is all the rage these days). Third, remember any connection is always two-way. Perhaps if you initiate a high quality connection with a medical staff member it will trigger a generative response that allows that staff member to perform their job more effectively, by bringing more attention, vitality and knowledge to the task at hand.