Saturday, April 1, 2017

Don't Call Me "Shirley"

It's probably one of the more quoted lines in motion picture history.  The quote from the 1980 movie Airplane!
 -Airplane (1980) - Paramount Pictures

I think of this quote every time the subject of appropriate language comes up in health care. I have spent hours discussing the topic of how address each other and the terms we use.  I am hearing more and more about this issue and I think it is much bigger than some may think. There are many questions.  Is the term  "patient" a title to be revered or despised.  Is the term  "health care consumer" or "client" more appropriate?  Other subjects come up.  Should you refer to your Doctor by their first name without the "Dr" prefix.  I know many parents who dislike being referred to as "(name of child's) parent"  Many view that as a loss of identity or a minimisation of their role.

How we are addressed is something that is personal and many of us view this very differently.  In my own case, I am often referred to as "Russell's Dad" or "Nicole's Dad." I am someone who is immensely proud of my kids I am quite proud of that title (I may feel differently when they are teenagers).  That is my view; but I know it isn't shared by others.  The one thing I do know, that I think we all agree, on is that how we are addressed is something that does matter.

My argument is that if you were to review many critical incident reports or negative occurrence in health care you will find one striking similarity.  Many of these "incidents" have a root cause in basic communication. A misunderstanding or an omission.  Communication is absolutely critical in the health care process. How you address someone is the start of that communication process.  If that initial introduction goes poorly that can tarnish the entire process going forward.  I strongly contend that the first couple of sentences, out of your mouth, when you arrive at an Emergency Room Triage will influence your entire experience in that ER visit.

So how do we know what is the "right thing to do" or how do we know "what not to say?"  I have some very simple advice.  Take a few seconds and ask the question.  Yes...i know this is revolutionary thinking but it seems like we tend to over think most issues and I think we could really benefit by simplifying these issues.

Is it so difficult to ask a patient, whether they be a child or an adult, how they would like to be addressed.  This can be a great ice breaker to get to know someone.  When people discuss the "Doctor-Patient" relationship you need to emphasise the "RELATIONSHIP."  That means interaction between two people; not a one sided lecture.  In the health care environment I have experienced a connection with some people I have met for only a few minutes.  On the other hand I feel much less connected with some that I have dealt with for years.  The difference is simply because "we" took the time to interact as opposed to keeping each other at arm's length.  Isn't it an expression of respect to ask someone how they would like to be treated or addressed?  Isn't that what so many people who become patients want is just an ounce of respect. All it takes to satisfy that need is to show a small amount of interest in the person?

Hello Donald, is it OK to call you Donald...or do you prefer Don?

What I am saying here is that in many instances (in my opinion) it isn't what is said but how it is said that matters more in the long run.  I don't care for being called Mr Lepp, but it is my name and if someone is simply trying to be more respectful, by being a little more formal, by using that rather than my first name it doesn't bother me.  I can easily ask them to use my first name and life goes on.  No big deal.  I can also be called "Mr Lepp" in a derogatory or sarcastic manner and that has to be dealt with differently.  My point is that in many cases it is not what is said...but how it is said that can be offensive.  If you are being talked down to, that is completely different than someone using a term that is not your preference.

Health care is an intricate web of systems and organizations that are difficult to navigate at the best of times.  Basic communication is critical for enhancing the patient experience.  Don't start off the process by getting hung up on language that you may not care for.  If something bothers you...say so...don't let it escalate.  Chances are, you may not be alone in your concerns...but whatever you do..."Don't call me Shirley."

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