HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Post-Charlottesville – We Need Caring Health Professionals More Than Ever!

Posted on | August 17, 2017 | No Comments

Source: Jason Lappa, NYT

Mike Magee

Collectively health professionals have a unique role in American society. Across cities and counties, rural and urban, we are asked to be available and accessible to help keep people well and respond when they are sick or injured. Those wounds come in all shapes and sizes – wounds to the body, wounds to the mind, wounds to the spirit. As important as are our diagnostic and therapeutic interventions to society, they pale in comparison to a larger, often over-looked function. Together, collectively, we process day to day, hour to hour, the fears and worries of our people, and in performing this function, create a more stable, more secure, more accepting and more loving nation.

With Charlottesville etched in the American psyche, good-willed Americans are in search of our true center. As a physician, I recall patients whose goodness and courage and kindness brought out the best in me and my colleagues. That after all is the true privilege and reward for doctors and nurses and all health professionals – the right to care.

Nearly six years ago, my wife and I were blessed with the arrival of our eighth and ninth grandchildren – two little girls, Charlotte and Luca. We were also introduced, for the first time as health consumers, to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The girls came early, at 34 weeks, and struggled to work their way back up to their due date. They are doing great today, but in those early days, it wasn’t easy on them or their parents or the care teams committed to their well being.

Viewing them from my grandparent perch, the Connecticut Children’s Hospital Center NICU team at Hartford Hospital did a great job, balancing high tech with high touch, providing wisdom and reassurance, inclusion and training to the girls’ parents, who were inclusively inducted as part of the team on day one. Viewing it all from my vantage point as a former surgeon, hospital administrator and health policy analyst, I was impressed, but not surprised.

When people claim that “America has the best health care,” they’re usually referencing groups of highly skilled doctors and nurses and other caring professionals, committed to their patients and to each other, armed with experience, judgment and technology to – collectively – heal and provide health, and keep us whole in the process. It’s really a holy thing to observe.

What that NICU experience illustrates is that we health professionals are fully capable of collaborative and humanistic care, especially when faced with a complex crisis. But the challenge today, in the face of purposeful Presidential segregation of our citizenry, is to extend the same blend of knowledge, skill, compassion and partnership to all patients on a day-to-day basis. How do we assist them in creating healthy homes, healthy families and healthy communities?

If you deconstruct the success factors embedded in our NICU experience, what do you find, independent of the scientific skills, sophisticated technology and ultra-focus on the patient?

There are three elements that are worthy of note.

1. Inclusion: For most humans, the first instinct when faced with trauma or threat is flight. And yet, these NICU professionals’ first instinct was inclusion. With IVs running, and still groggy from her C-section, our daughter and her husband were wheeled to the NICU and introduced to their 3 lb. daughters. They were shown how to wash their hands carefully, how to hold the babies safely and without fear, and – while given no guarantees – experienced the transfer of confidence from the loving and capable caring professionals to them. Those were remarkable first day gifts to this young couple.

2. Knowledge: Coincident with the compassionate introduction to their daughters, there was a seamless transfer of information – each of their daughter’s current conditions, an explanation of the machines and their purposes, the potential threats that were being actively managed, and the likely chance of an excellent outcome. This knowledge – clear, concise, unvarnished, understandable – delivered softly, calmly, and compassionately, reinforced these young and fearful parents’ confidence and trust in each other, and in their care team, on whose performance their newborn daughters’ lives now depended.

3. Accessibility: Clearly a NICU is a 24/7 operation. But that alone did not assure that the needs of these patients and their family would be met. First, members of their care team needed to demonstrate “presence.” By this I mean, by communication, touch, voice, and face, they needed to connect to the parents, to signal that they cared for these unique individuals. The outreach needed to be “personal.” This was not a rote exercise for them, not just another set of parents, not just another set of tiny babies. These were these specific parents’ precious children, their lives, their futures were now in the balance. And the performance needed to be “professional.” The team needed to be consistent and collaborative, with systems and processes in place, no descent and little variability in performance, rapid response, anticipatory diagnostics and confident timely management of issues as they arose.

As we recover as a nation from Charlottesville and Trump’s self-inflicted wounds, we caring health professionals need to mirror a better way – holistic and inclusive, humanistic and scientific, where goodness and fairness reside side-by-side. How might each of us actively demonstrate a commitment to inclusion, knowledge transfer and accessibility, and in doing so, assure that our patients respond with confidence and trust in America?

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