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Treating Patients as People: A Clinician’s Personal Experience


When I was diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease at the age of 50, I was shocked. I am healthy and have low blood pressure, so I never thought this disease was a possibility for me. This is something I see in my patients, not me. But now I was the patient.

The Clinician Becomes the Patient

My head spun to what the outcomes would be and what my recovery would look like to the treatment decisions that might need to be made. I didn’t give much thought to the actual experience of having a procedure.

I underwent a cardiac catheterization with stent placement, a procedure that will significantly prolong my life. My team of nurses in the pre- and post-procedure recovery area was reassuring and educational throughout my time with them. One of the nurses even brought me an iced coffee with a straw while I was lying flat after I woke up because she knows how many of us nurses need that dose of caffeine to feel functional.

She was my hero. This woman understood me as a person having a procedure, not a diagnosis or a patient.

The Patient Experience

When I was brought into the room for the catheterization, I was awake and unmedicated until minutes before the procedure. This was unlike my previous procedures where I was given heavy medication and generally had no recollection of what happened while in the operating room.

I received brief hellos from a few of the people in the room. They moved me around, placed a large piece of equipment over my chest for visualization, and talked about my labs and medical history on the other side of the room.

My anxiety increased to the point of a panic attack as I listened to them talking about me and watched them move equipment around me.

It affirmed for me that even nurses could be afraid of the same procedures they perform on others. And it reminded me that my patients are people, not appointments or procedures to get through.

How to Personalize the Patient Process

Putting yourself in their shoes (or medical gown) is essential. If a patient is anxious about surgery, as I was, reassurance and distraction can help. Asking the patient about their lives or asking if they’d like music to be played and what genre they prefer are good techniques.

I asked twice for more medications due to extreme pain. This can happen. Listen to your patients. If they’re in pain (or just think they’re in pain), then adjustments need to be made. Questions should be asked to make sure the patient is as comfortable as possible during this unsettling and confusing situation.

If your patient is awake in the operating room, as I was, communicate the details of the procedure with them. Even if their doctor has already walked them through the process, the patient most likely needs to be told again. This provides a great opportunity for the patient to ask any questions and ensure that everyone is on the same page for the procedure.

Remember that your patients are people first – people who may be anxious, afraid, alone and may not know what is happening. Talk to them, include them and reassure them. Whether they appear aware or unaware, conscious or unconscious, we do not know what the patient is able to process or emote during care.

It is up to us as clinicians to respect the humanity and dignity of all patients, to educate and reassure, and to do our best to empathize with them as people.

And maybe even bring them a bottle of iced coffee with a straw.

Axxess offers more tips and best practices in a library of useful blogs to help your hospice organization provide exceptional care.

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