The patient will see you now: Human voice in health care interactions

Healthcare, as many people may know, is currently undergoing a time of transition, both in terms of innovation and structure. Two posts by healthcare marketer Dan Dunlap in recent weeks underscore the need for part of this reevaluation to focus on patient experience.

            In the first post, Dunlap focused on end-of-life conversations, utilizing a health situation within his own family to underscore his point (Dunlap, 2014, March 13, found at http://thehealthcaremarketer.wordpress.com/2014/03/13, downloaded March 21, 2014). Dunlap’s details in his account the actions of his father’s physician in discussing an end of life plan. For example, the physician took the time to address the patient, utilized 45 minutes for the conversation, and “allowed himself to be human” as Dunlap puts it. This is the sort of thing that Dunlap believes is an excellent model for end of life conversations.

            In his second post, Dunlap links to two accounts of patient storytelling about their own healthcare experiences. Patient experiences, according to Dunlap, can be important to healthcare providers, because the patients themselves can provide insight into their own conditions ( Dunlap, 2014, March 20, found at http://thehealthcaremarketer.wordpress/2014/03/20, downloaded March 21, 2014).

            The patient experience can, indeed, be important in how the treatment is perceived and diagnostically in terms of having a more fuller qualitative account of the patient’s take on the illness/disability. Taking social context and the patient’s wishes and preferences into account allows for a more personalized treatment plan.  While this isn’t always possible, for example because a wish may actually endanger the patient’s health or safety, it goes far when these possibilities do exist.

            Unfortunately, healthcare systems in the United States are not always set up to do this. One could argue, as some disability studies scholars do, that medicine can be an impersonal, purely diagnostic account of illness/disability and fails to extend social context to the situation. There is also the matter of the “objective” knowledge claimed by many within the healthcare field that would shy away from more personalized relationships perhaps needed to create such bonds.  

            Sometimes, it may, in fact, for a physician or other medical professional to attempt objectivity. For example, being overly involved or “personal” with a patient may lead the physician to make a poor or even unethical decision. However, this cloak of depersonalization also can come at a price when dealing with the more human elements of illness, disability, or even death. While the medical professional cannot necessarily become “non-objective” in these moments, it may be helpful to patients to allow more realistic human interaction to happen in tough interactions as Dunlap’s first post indicates.

            Another more pressing problem is that of “time” and the management of the clinic. The “busyness” of a clinic or hospital may simply make these types of conversations difficult. That would seem to be a systematic issue. Valuing of patients and their experience, and support from the major drivers of healthcare spending such as insurance companies and the government, may be helpful in creating better cultures. Bureaucracy and emphasis on supposed efficiency may not necessarily be a good way to promote such cultures.

            It is important, however, that such cultures are promoted because they promote a better framing of the healthcare experience. Moreover, they may create more workable solutions, perhaps actually improving the healthcare system and the patient’s experience within it.

Andrew Bennett

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