Patients want to feel understood by their doctors. Physicians and nurses want to know their patients understand diagnosis and the prescribed medical advice will be followed. What does this have to do with trauma informed care? On the surface, feeling understood forms the basis of rapport and the patient-physician relationship and, for the most part, it seems like an easy thing to assess: the patient explains the reason for their visit, you listen, nodding every so often. Once you've completed the physical workup, you provide a diagnosis or recommendation, ask the patient if they understood and if they have any questions, to which the usual response is "uh-huh".
However, when you are caring for a patient who recently experienced a traumatic event, such as an injury or illness diagnosis (most likely every patient you treat), new research suggests they may experience amnesia, especially to forming new memories for a period time after the event. The amnesia results from suppressing discomforting memories, thoughts or emotions surrounding the injury or illness. As the study authors explains:
"If you are motivated to try to prevent yourself from reliving a flashback of that initial trauma, anything that you experience around the period of time of suppression tends to get sucked up into this black hole as well".
As you might imagine, this amnesia impacts your patient's ability to understand you, despite consistently saying "uh-huh". It also reiterates the importance of practicing trauma informed care, minimizing the traumatic aspects of the care you're providing, helping the patient cope effectively with their injury/illness, and screening for traumatic stress reactions. How do you provide trauma informed care and still ensure your patient understand you? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!