I intended my most recent Hospital Impact post to begin a dialogue on refocusing our conversations in healthcare. I worry that at times we get lost in the policies and process, programs and products and forget the most important "P" of all--people. I suggested in May that the "how" in healthcare trumps the "what" each and every day.
This too is evident in the conversations I continue to have with patients and family members, including the experiences my family is having as we continue our own healthcare journey.
As I speak to people in healthcare and observe it as a patient and researcher, I see a paradox at play. In our attempt to deal with the chaotic, challenging and unpredictable world of healthcare we may have very well, and unintentionally, removed the humanity from it.
I do not suggest this lightly, nor am I saying caregivers have lost their sense of humanity. In fact, I see them struggling daily as doctors, nurses, support staff and administrators across healthcare settings to reconnect with the personal nature they, too, want to see in care.
What I raise is something I suggested in my last Patient Experience blog post and an idea we must be willing to engage further in our quest to improve the care experience for all.
I ask you to consider one idea, perhaps a nugget where we can start to shift the very environment that may challenge our ability to provide the best experience. It may be something as simple are our language--the words we choose to use, dictated by systems beyond our walls, years of policy and regulation, teaching and accepted understanding. I hope we can begin to challenge these conventions for the sake of our families, our friends and the communities we serve.
I want to reinforce an important point gained from my conversations with patients and families directly: That the burden of change does not rest solely in the hands of healthcare leaders, but rather in the hands of all who engage in the system. I saw this first hand just this week during a visit to the William Osler Health System in Toronto, Canada, where they unveiled a new vision and strategic plan co-created by leadership, staff and the community and shared a commitment to "patient-inspired healthcare without boundaries."
It is our human nature to search for and play a role. We have job titles and defined responsibilities and we most often actually want these. So, too, then in the care experience we play the role of doctor, nurse, patient or family member. Yet at the end of the day while expertise distinguishes our ability and our role, it does not differentiate our humanness. It is here where language may play the biggest part.
A champion for the patient experience movement and dear mentor Wendy Leebov reinforces that language can make the biggest impact in our care experience. Patients thrive on positive and clear communication and they are affected by the behaviors of all they encounter. Yet it is the language of the system itself that we must challenge.
Healthcare providers are mothers and fathers; they too are patients themselves. Patients are not only passive individuals facing situations of pain or needing relief from suffering. Rather, patients are most often individuals who want to actively engage, understand and work towards getting better. I would rather see the language of healthcare consist of healing partnerships than transactional outcomes.
I offer this in recognition that we will still need expertise. As a husband who had a recent situation where my wife was taken suddenly to the emergency room while I was elsewhere with our son, I counted on the experts to play their role. This will never be diminished. I only suggest that as we work to ensure the best of patient experiences for all, we must demystify the nature of our healthcare environment, simplify our language and recognize that we all--caregivers or recipients of care--have a role to play in an effective and positive healthcare encounter.
I challenge each of us to consider a shift in our language â€¦ It may not be easy, but it will be well worth it!
Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is president of The Beryl Institute , where he specializes in organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.