Providing trauma informed care can often seem like one of those "nice to do" practices, so it's fair to ask if it actually improves physical health outcomes for patients. Rest assured, it does improve health outcomes for patients, but not always in a way many would consider linear. When doctors and nurses provide trauma informed care, they enhance their ability to connect with their patients and families on an emotional level. In turn, this connection builds trust and fosters the idea that the patient and doctor are part of a team. When patients feel they can play an active role in their own care and trust their doctor, they are more likely to share important details about their health and adhere to medical advice:
A patient who feels emotionally connected to his or her doctor is more likely to disclose important medical information and to follow the doctor’s advice. That connection can serve as the basis for true teamwork, with the patient working proactively with the medical team to improve health. Simply put, patients who feel cared about feel better and do better.
In the absence of trauma informed care, it’s possible to miss important facts affecting a patient’s overall health and recovery. For example, when a doctor prescribing a medication does not realize their patient’s parent relies on multiple modes of public transportation (which can be unreliable) to get to the pharmacy, the physician may not understand why the patient isn’t taking the medication.
Practicing trauma informed care also affords doctors and nurses the opportunity to screen patients for traumatic stress reactions as a result of their injury or illness. Left untreated, traumatic stress reactions can affect a patient’s mental and physical health. For example, the teen recovering from a car accident may be self-conscious of his/her scars or physical appearance post-injury. Or they worry that if they leave the house, they’ll get into another car accident. So they stop participating in any type of physical activity and rarely see their friends. As a result, their physical rehabilitation slows or even regresses and as they lose touch with friends, their mental health takes a turn for the worst.
What can be done to help doctors and nurses improve their trauma informed care skill set? Like other skills, trauma informed care skills can be taught and turned into a habit with practice. Online courses such as the Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress: An Introduction for Healthcare Providers gives an overview of trauma informed care while the DEF Protocol courses teach specific bedside skills for implementing trauma informed care. In addition, the Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress and Working with the Child Welfare System course teaches doctors and nurses about the special considerations, such a prior trauma history or lack social support, which affect children involved with the child welfare system, and how to provide care to these children in a trauma informed manner.