Making a personal connection to the patient right from the start can engage them and set the tone for their entire experience. But there’s a better way than simply asking a patient, “How are you?” When you step back to think about it, is it any wonder people often reply, “How do you think I am? I’m lying in a hospital bed.”
How can we ask a more personal question and make a better connection? Look for cues and clues. Are there flowers in the room? If yes, say, “Who sent you the lovely flowers?” Is there a card on the bedside stand or in the window sill? Who sent it? Is there a photograph in the room? What are they watching on TV? Noticing anything new can spark a conversation and gives them a chance to talk about the people and things that matter to them.
Next time you return to their room, if there doesn’t seem to be anything new to ask about – is or was there a person at the bedside to ask about? Or if a patient looks concerned: “You seem worried, what’s on your mind?”
This method of “asking with skilled inquiry” with open-ended questions gives the patient an opportunity tell their story. It’s an invitation to open up.
At Northside Hospital, HCA West Florida Division, every meeting, every huddle is opened with a “Mission Moment.” This creates an opportunity for everyone to tell these stories, gives everyone a chance to recognize how we feel connected to the patients, and to feel good about the work we do. This also creates a better experience and more of a connection for the caregivers. It’s easier and more meaningful to care for people we feel connected to.
Recently, I was rounding and saw one of our patients and his wife was sitting on the bed. I walked in and introduced myself, and he asked me “Why is it YOU people always ask the same questions over and over? Don’t you talk to each other?”
I explained we ask the same questions because we want to make sure patients tell us as much about their history as they can. Then I asked, “Who is this lovely lady?”
A big grin came across his face, and he said, "This is my wife of 46 years.” His perspective shifted from being annoyed to being cared about and having a chance to talk about who matters to him.
Lynn D. Charbonneau, MBA, Director of Patient Experience at Northside Hospital, part of HCA’s West Florida Division. With 39 years of healthcare experience with 25 years in patient experience improvement, she has a national reputation for her work around coaching and transforming organizational culture. @ldcharbonneau