Thursday, July 05, 2007

Listen and Learn

This week Annie and I ran another successful customer care workshop for receptionists in doctor’s surgeries. I’m delighted to say we had a great time and the workshop went well – the feedback from the 15 receptionists was good.

At one point we were discussing how a minority of healthcare professionals unfortunately stereotype ‘anxious mums’ as ‘over-sensitive’ (or worse terminology) when mums insist there is something wrong with their child.

I’ve always believed mums know intuitively when their child is not well and it is something worse than the everyday under-the-weather minor problem.

I told the story from my own career when a child’s life was saved by an observant mother who noticed a rash on her baby that the doctor had not seen on examination. It turned out the baby had meningitis and had to get to hospital within minutes – luckily the child survived. The doctor concerned is a personal friend of mine and he told me he had missed the rash. He said had it not been for the mums insistence and her observation the child would have died.

This story created a fair bit of discussion among the receptionists with some opposing views about ‘anxious mums.’

Then one of the receptionists quietly explained how she had taken her child to a hospital convinced she was ill. She was – to put it kindly – dismissed as an unnecessarily anxious parent – and told there was nothing seriously wrong.

She told us that her child died because cancer had not been diagnosed early enough.

To add insult to injury she was then told by healthcare professionals that she as mother could have done more to raise concerns.

There was total silence in the room. For the first time in my 38 years working experience I wasn’t sure what to say.

I think everyone in the room felt the same. I managed to get by with some supportive words and after a while we returned to the discussion in hand.

The lessons for me are many and varied:

*Never, ever, assume you know how someone is feeling – you don’t.

*We never know what burdens some people are carrying so we should always try to support each other.

*Be very careful about the language we use in any setting because someone in the room may be terribly hurt if disrespect is shown through the words we use.

For the purposes of this posting we will call the person Wendy and I would just like to thank Wendy for teaching me so much.


Ruth said...

This is a great blog :-)

I too am incredibly proud of our NHS and all it stands for.

The humbling experience shared here is a fear as a parent and friend I have been apart of, the anger and disbelief felt as a listener that time, resources and simple caring techniques are so sorely inadequate to the doubt and loss of self confidence placed in parenting abilities when making 'unqualified diagnosis of illness.

Reading with initial dismay all the stories flagged up by the media highlighting the flaws of the nhs .. for the good and worse, it is always with the hope that they report using an unbiased intention to encourage change and provide the platform to begin building what must be a sometimes lagging morale within our health services.

From a keen 'outside supporter ~ many thanks for a very interesting read.

Trevor Gay said...

Thank you Ruth for your kind comments about Simplicity Blog – I hope you will visit again and also tell your friends :-)

I left the NHS almost three years ago after a long career but I still defend staunchly the principle of the NHS. Where we need to criticise the NHS then we should but let’s also remember how much brilliant work is being done every day for millions of patients.

The biggest criticism I have is about how the NHS does not welcome the patient and carer fully as ‘partners’ in care.

Too many healthcare professionals still see themselves as ‘experts’ who do not need to fully involve patients. That is short sighted and a mistake. In my career the service always improved when patients were more involved in running the service.

Ruth said...

It does seem almost unbelievable that, within reason a patient led health care system isn’t the norm, seeing as that’s what it’s main intention is.

My rose coloured glasses are nice & comfortable, but the ‘common sense’ distance between a professional’s ‘I trained’ and the layman’s ‘I know something’s wrong ’ must surely be closing the gap ~ unless a blind eye is being turned to the complaint levels !?

If the Government can have ePetitions as a direct way of discovering current thinking, causes and concerns, the window of opportunity for a similar nhs focused service could be quite startling !

& I will be back .. :-D said in a non terminator voice, the feedburner sign up is a great feature.

Trevor Gay said...

I spent 2 years in my health care career as a complaints manager and I reckon at least 90% of complaints could have been avoided if someone had simply said sorry at some point early on in the process.