When stepping inside any healthcare setting the overarching emotion for most people is probably fear. And pain. And anxiety. And loss. You get the picture!
Even though the healthcare setting is the place we go to improve our health and overcome illness, the negative connotations associated with the doctor's surgery are real.
We conjure up all matters of negative and painful thoughts. We have memories of loved ones who suffered and died in hospitals, memories of injections in doctors offices, memories of sitting in waiting rooms anxiously awaiting our name to be called and bad news to be received.
All sickness, fear, pain and death. Negative, negative, negative!
The reality of healthcare is very different. Healthcare staff can see the transformations in health over the last 100 years. Life expectancy is up, disease is down, pain experienced today is far less than in the past and treatment options have vastly improved over time. But, our imagination upon entering hospitals and doctors offices are still, fear, pain and anxiety even when the reality is clearly different.
Healthcare staff, being aware of people's perceptions have a responsibility to use communication skills to alleviate this sense of dread and negativity.
People fear the worst. They generally only go to see their doctor when an issue is already causing them pain and suffering. (Hence it appears we have a “disease-care” systems rather than “health-care” systems.)
The mindset and attitude of people entering the healthcare facility is not to look to improve health and wellbeing, it's focused on their current pain and the potential pain treatment may cause.
When the doctor and his team gathered around my bed, looking pensive, and told me that I had Chronic End-Stage Renal Failure, I was not too concerned. This was due to the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about. He educated me quickly and bluntly. “Your kidneys have failed!” This came as a terrible shock and to me seemed like the end of the world. My first question was, “will I die”!
The diagnosis, being laid out plainly and simply, left me reeling. My thinking, similarly to most people I believe, thought the worst!
If the doctor had not used such abrupt language and followed the diagnosis with some assurances to how treatable the disease is, I would not have suffered the mental anguish I did. I now know that kidney failure is very treatable. I'm still alive over 20 years later with a good quality of life, a family and a career. I also now know that if my grandfather had got kidney failure at the age of 20, like I did, he would have been dead at 21!
What can be done differently?
We need to explain the disease, explain the treatment and then influence the patient's imagination in a more positive, proactive and useful way.
If the patient is suffering pain, get them to imagine what life will be like again after they start their treatment, get a new hip or get corrective eye surgery, for example.
Get them to imagine what their life would have been like if they lived 100 years ago with their illness, without modern medicine….
The patient will not only leave with a diagnosis and treatment protocol, they will leave with a sense of hope for their future and a sense of gratitude to their healthcare team and medicine who can now alleviate so much of their pain and suffering….
Using the current state of the patient's health begin to create pictures in their mind of what life will be like in 3 or 6 months time. Get them to imagine the improvements in their quality of life, family life and personal life.
Our imagination is incredibly powerful and persuasive. Use it to alleviate anxiety by painting a picture of what life is like today with their illness. What life will be like with treatment. And even, what life would have been like without the treatment being available!
When the patient leaves their healthcare team with this mindset they will have a greater understanding of their illness, greater respect for the Team and an comprehension of the importance of why they need to adhere to the treatment plan.
The healthcare team are 'selling' the patient a vision of themselves, except healthier and happier.
REMEMBER, the goal is to bring the patient on a journey. Discuss with the patient a diagnosis, then a treatment plan, and equally importantly, a positive mindset, confident in themselves that they have the physical, mental and emotional strength to withstand the challenges of ill health and to get better.
Using effective communication skills to influence the patients imagination is a powerful weapon in aiding recovery.