Minding Our Bedside Manners

For anyone who has ever worked in retail, the phrase “There’s no such thing as a stupid question” creates a reaction similar to fingernails on a chalkboard. Many individuals who have done time on the other side of a cash register will indeed agree that they have been confronted with questions that have been somewhat ‘sanity challenged.’ And it was not always easy to refrain from displaying some indicator of annoyance. It probably showed in the voice, the body language, or maybe that increasing twitch in our eye as we tried to answer the questioner, all the while realizing that we were supposed to go home ten minutes ago. Such is life in the marketplace.

Healthcare is a somewhat different story. While healthcare providers are often inundated by some cringe-worthy queries that would seem to have fairly obvious answers, it must be remembered what is in the balance during such times. There is a huge difference between someone who is making rocket science out of buying a toaster oven, and someone who has just found out that their mate has cancer, or that their grandmother might need to be placed in a home. This is not a easy situation for them, and it is probably one that they have never been in before. These people may not know the “boiler plate” methods of how medications, lab-tests, CT Scans, and medical paperwork are handled in the day to day way that providers do. And very often they are frustrated by everything that suddenly seems to be coming to their doorstep. So there are a few things that healthcare providers need to bear in mind when helping these folks.

  Trust Me, I’m Here To Help

Contrary to what logic might dictate – and what some might imagine – doctors, nurses, and even administrators who act in a warm, friendly manner with families in a health crisis are lauded far and above those who “merely” do their job very skillfully. This does not mean that people value personality over ability. By no means. But it usually means that they want to feel connected to their healthcare providers as people. To be able to open up, and even joke with them, should they be inclined, in the face of a life-altering issue. Granted, healthcare providers should in no way offer false hopes or provide illusions of a primrose path. But grim, humorless, machine-like efficiency need not be the alternative. It should go without saying that patients AND their families want the human touch as much as a deft hand at the scalpel, or sharp mind for the diagnosis. No matter how well educated or experienced the human in the white coat is, they are still human. A person, helping other people. So acumen of the mind, and skill of the hand need to work with humanity of the heart.

 Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge, Say No More

Sometimes those in the healthcare fields can speak in riddles and half-sentences. They are not trying to obfuscate the truth, but often relying on the idea that their listener already understands many of the ins and outs of the healthcare industry as they do. Everybody understands how Insurance gets billed, and what a Co-Pay or deductible is, right? Or how Medicare and Medicaid work when it comes to procedures and prescriptions? Or that certain things like ambulance transport, and some prescription drugs might not be covered by insurance? The simple reality is that many do not. Or maybe not as fully as they should. Or the stress they are now facing has them not thinking logically. Uttering half of a suggestion, then trailing off with several head nods and a vague declarative does not give them the information they need. Bear in mind, healthcare is one of the most complicated things that people face, next to legal and tax-related issues. And it affects their lives, and the lives of their families, in a very direct and tangible way. If people are asking questions at this point, it is usually not because they are ignorant; It is likely because they are very frightened, very confused, and sincerely want to get this matter figured out. So they need as much information, in a logical step by step method, as they can process.

In the past, the term “bedside manner” was used to describe how a doctor interacted with their patients. Now, the same idea extends to all members of the healthcare fields and the persona they present to the world. And it goes beyond the bedside to the telephone, email, and across the desk. People want to deal with people. And while the patient might not always be ‘right’ and the questions they ask might not always be logical, they are reaching out as best as they can for help. And amazingly enough, a warm smile, easy tone of voice, and personable approach very often can be just what the doctor ordered!