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Making it Click

Monday, August 06, 2018
Geri Lynn Baumblatt, MA I spend a lot of time in hospitals, but it’s not where I was planning to spend Memorial Day. An older relative hit her head ad broke a couple of ribs – and so there we were.
I sat in the room as a nurse explained how and when to use the incentive spirometer to prevent pneumonia. Then something simple, yet amazing happened. He took an extra minute to explain that the pain of the broken ribs would prevent her from taking full breaths. And how using the spirometer to take deep breaths in would expand more of her lungs. That way, those small air sacs in her lungs wouldn’t collapse, fill with fluid, and get infected.
It was like hearing the last puzzle piece snap into place.
She got it, she understood the importance of the deep breaths, how her participation is what would make the difference -- and she was on it. She even started to explain it to the doctor when he came by.

We often THINK we’re connecting the dots for people. But are we giving them what they need?
Is it enough to tell people an incentive spirometer will prevent pneumonia? Probably not. I don’t think it’s about giving a full A&P lecture – but enough information to give people that insight into why and how – so their brain gets it.
I’ve been working with patients and family caregivers to ensure they understand what they can do before and after surgeries (like joint replacement) to recover well:
  • Get up and walk
  • Stop using nicotine in the weeks before and after surgery
  • Avoid opioids

Obviously, people want to have a smooth recovery. And I kept explaining one of the reasons these things help with healing are because they improve blood flow. But most people were still a bit stymied. They think of their bones as needing calcium, but not blood. It seems like a different system. It just wasn’t clicking. So starting with a little more on how the bones need blood put that extra piece in place so it made sense.
People were surprised and confused by the recommendation to get a dental checkup before joint replacement surgery. Telling people that gum disease or things in their mouth could lead to an infection in a hip or knee joint didn’t resonate. But explaining that any bacteria in their mouth could travel through their blood to their new joint helped it come together.
Are there best practices or instructions people rarely follow?  
If so, take a step back and ask why it isn’t clicking for them. What’s missing in the explanation to them that we often take for granted? We forget what it’s like not to know the why or how of so many things we ask people to do.
Share your insights where you’ve seen it click for patients and families.


Geri Lynn Baumblatt MA,
For the last 20 years, Geri has worked to help people understand health conditions and procedures, orient them to their diagnoses, make more informed decisions about their care, and partner with their care teams.  She oversaw the creation of the Emmi program library, and she regularly speaks and serves on patient engagement, patient experience, health literacy, shared decision making, health design, family caregiving, and heath communication panels for organizations like AHRQ, the Brookings Institute, Stanford Medicine X, and the Center for Plain Language. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Patient Experience, is on the board of the Society for Participatory Medicine, and published a chapter in Transformative Healthcare Practice through Patient Engagement (IGI Global). She currently consults on patient engagement, family caregiving, and health communication. Follow her on Twitter @GeriLynn

Tags: patient engagement, communication, patient education, expectations, experience, healthcare
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