Sometimes, It Does Only Take a Moment

This week, I had the privilege of attending a book signing by David Ansell, a doctor who had formerly worked for Cook County Hospital for many years. The conversation ranged from the deplorable conditions of the hospital to the shifting political situation to one woman’s experience at County years ago when she was forced to wait in the waiting room for hours, alone and in nothing but a hospital gown. Yet, even then, she noted that there was “compassion.” Some staff member would stop amid the craziness that is work at a public hospital and show some kindness, some understanding that what she was going through was unacceptable and difficult, and do what he or she could in that moment to help her.

I was reminded of the patient-centered communication class that I had sat in on just hours before. We (or rather, the providers who were taking the course that I was sitting in on) had been discussing how difficult it was to communicate well with patients given the time pressures that that providers are placed under. Due to their time constraints, the providers felt unable to listen all the patients’ presenting problems, or hear about the stresses in their family life. Yet as we learned, patients typically present with far fewer problems than most providers assume (the average is 3, not 15, as some would estimate), and learning about the other issues in a patients’ life may be critical to understanding why they are “noncompliant” or otherwise not able to fully accept what you are telling them.

Counseling obviously takes a lot longer than a moment, but taking the moment to ask the follow-up question about their family, to allow the patient that extra minute to explain what their situation is, or even to verbally acknowledge and respect the difficulties the patient is going through can clearly make the difference between a patient shutting down or actively listening to what you have to say next. As health care providers, our time is severely constrained, but sometimes, it seems taking that extra minute makes a great difference for patient experience.

Respecting that this was only one perspective we covered in class, it was immensely gratifying to hear this sentiment echoed but hours later, in an entirely different, non-educational setting speaking about a very different hospital environment. **Sometimes, all you really need for quality care — even in a place like Cook County where high quality care is all but impossible due to the systems constraints — is to take a moment to acknowledge the patient as a person and to show that you care. **

And why should that be surprising when we see that it so many other aspects of our lives?

*An extra ten minutes in the morning — *means that I can fit five sun salutations in before work. Though this isn’t exactly a workout, does do the world for my yoga practice and energy level for the rest of the day.

*An extra few minutes to take a breath and reread an email *— can give me the moment to respond with serenity and level-headedness, preventing miscommunications and hurt feelings in the future.

*A delayed bus — *allows me to catch up on a good chunk of my twitter feed, perhaps even get involved in conversations with people halfway across the world or share new information with many more.

*The few seconds needed to compose an unexpected note to a loved one *— could make their day, give them the courage to tackle that next challenge or whatever it is ahead of them.

We see this in our daily lives. Yet, in our fast-paced world and especially in the time-constrained realities of health care, we forget sometimes what it means to really give people a moment of our time. Moments that make a difference do not necessarily take that much time. They may make us late for our next meeting, but given the difference they can make in some one’s day, and since we are in the business of making a difference, shouldn’t that be worth it?

Photo Credit: Allnightavenue**