The difficult conversations. Delivering bad news. The resulting emotions. Only a rare day will pass when a physician, nurse or other healthcare professions will not interact with a patient’s (or family member’s) emotions.
How can this interaction become more tolerable? More manageable? Through the use of trauma informed care. Practicing with a trauma informed lens will never take away all the hardship and emotions of all patient communications (delivering a terminal diagnosis will never be “easy”), but it can help physicians, nurses and others frame interactions to lessen the volatility.
How does trauma informed care improve interactions with patients? At its foundation, trauma informed care asks healthcare professionals to understand that each and every patient enters medical care with their own life, traumas, beliefs, and coping skills, all of which are unknown to their care team. As Jenni Levy, MD, FAACH, president of the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare, shares:
People come into our care with all kinds of ideas we don’t know about – fears of complications like Mark’s, and theories about their own health. They often have very specific ideas about what they need, which may not match our plan.
Just as patients enter medical care with their own experiences and emotions, healthcare professionals have lives outside the walls of the hospitals too. Try as we might, it’s virtually impossible to separate ourselves from our emotions. Dr. Levy continues:
Emotions are messy. Our patients bring their emotions into our encounters, and we bring our own emotions with us everywhere we go. Once I learned to address emotion instead of trying to duck it, the difficult conversations seemed manageable and, often, rewarding. Those messy moments are the times when our patients need us the most.
While emotions may indeed be messy, when healthcare professionals provide care through a trauma informed lens, these emotions, along with the understanding everyone carries them, can work to deepen and enrich patient-provider interactions.