Directly Speaking - Walk in their shoes

by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President
January 19, 2016

In his June 2013 President’s Message, then President Tom Westerkamp relayed and expanded on a message he had heard earlier that year at the ICHP/MSHP Spring Meeting presented by Cleveland Clinic Chief Pharmacy Officer Scott Knoer. Scott shared a new video produced by the Cleveland Clinic titled “Empathy: Exploring Human Connection to Patient Care.” You can watch below, or the video is still available on here, and has had nearly 3 million views. It is something worth viewing, maybe even before reading the rest of this column.

Tom talked about how all healthcare providers need to remember that our patients, their family members and other visitors may have serious issues that are holding their attention and that are going on in their lives. He relayed that this applies to co-workers, too, and that our work interactions need to be empathetic and always be considerate of what others might be going through at any given moment.

Well, some of you know that I had the opportunity to experience many days in a Rockford hospital in December as my father was admitted with pneumonia and sepsis and eventually passed away as a result. I spent 19 days straight coming in and out of that hospital, most with my mother who turned 90 during the process and many times with other family members. And just like in the video, we all had a variety of concerns running through our minds. Would Dad recover? How will Mom do without him, if he doesn’t? How is Mom holding up? Does Mom understand what the Doctor just told us? Will Mom and Dad have enough money if he needs long term skilled care after this? And many more thoughts like those. In addition, Dad tested positive for MRSA, so every trip into the room required gown and gloves and always left us wondering if we were already carriers or now becoming one. We were all distracted by a variety of thoughts.

At the same time, I tried to keep doing some work and fortunately, the ICHP staff was phenomenal! They kept the ball rolling in Loves Park and didn’t bother me with trivial issues. I think they did a great job of considering my situation and picking me up!

I did see pharmacy from the other side once or twice, too! When Dad became agitated, it took a little longer than I would have liked to get the lorazepam and later haloperidol up to the unit. But then I thought about the processes involved: writing the order, processing the order, validating the order, delivering the medication to the ADC, and finally removing it from the ADC and administering it to him. It actually happened pretty fast considering! But most other patients and their families don’t know what I know. Something to consider.

I also was lucky enough to personally know the pharmacist that was dosing Dad’s vancomycin, so it was easy to stay on top of when the next dose was coming. I don’t think that pharmacist normally makes it a point to speak with family and let them know what he’s doing and when the next dose might be administered. Maybe that’s something all clinical pharmacists should consider when dosing patients’ medications? Let the family know (if they are readily accessible) what you do and why. Provide updates on the medication therapy plan – nothing too detailed, but in terms they understand, so they feel more informed.

The nursing care was excellent, and I made it a point with each new nurse to let them know that I used to be a hospital pharmacist so “I speak medical”. This helped them understand that I knew more than the average family member might and that they could be more clinical in their explanations. This saved them time, and I think they appreciated it. Every healthcare provider should inform those caring for their family members that they have a health background to enhance communications. Of course that does place more responsibility on the healthcare family member, not only for communications but for the purpose of advocacy for the patient.

As pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the patient and their family members. We need to do the same with the nursing staff and physicians we interact with so that we empathize and better serve their needs. That’s why we’re there. And it may help us provide better care for each of our patients. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to reach out to the family to get a better overall view. Share what you can and the services you’re providing so that they feel more informed and involved in the care. If you know the patient is going home on new medications, let all involved know what to expect from them, how to take them (not just the patient) and what to do if a medication-related problem arises once they get home or while they are still in your care.

Treat your patients and their family members as if they were your Dad or Mom in that bed and think about what they may be thinking about while they are in your care. Watch the video and think of your own family and friends. Walk in their shoes, everyday!

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