Bringing Compassionate Connected Care into the Every Day

Added on Dec 15, 2017

By Andrea Fitzgerald, Staff Writer

CCC“What we do is sacred. What we do is intimate,” Press Ganey’s Chief Nursing Officer Christy Dempsey said about the caregiver role in health care. But, as she explains in her new book, The Antidote to Suffering: How Compassionate Connected Care Can Improve Safety, Quality, and Experience, intimacy can get lost in today’s patient-caregiver interactions.

If a nurse checks a patient’s dressings without introducing themselves, if a surgeon confuses details of a patient’s treatment when updating family members, or if a physician refers to patients by their disease or condition, there is a loss of intimacy. But these scenarios are avoidable, according to Dempsey. The key, she believes, is encouraging providers to focus on the shared human connection with patients. “It’s not enough to just take care of our patients. We have to connect with them as people—as individuals with interests, goals and values,” she explained.

One way to establish that personal connection with patients is through storytelling—a theme prevalent in Dempsey’s book, and one that she frequently addresses in presentations to national and international health care audiences.

Storytelling can manifest itself in the micro-moments of a caregiver-patient interaction. Dempsey suggests starting a routine assessment with a personal question as simple as, “When you’re not in the hospital, what do you like to do?” The patient’s answer and the conversation it evokes don’t have to be time-consuming to be effective.

“It takes 56 seconds to make a connection with a patient,” Dempsey said. And that connection, the conversation, can continue every hour of rounding, -- when the caregiver hangs an IV bag, or turns the patient over, or brings medication. “The point is that rounding is not one more thing that caregivers have to do. Caregivers have always been in the room every hour,” she said. “The point is to make your time with the patient count.”

To ensure that this strategy is implemented, Dempsey advises managers to ask caregivers (nurses and others “with a face to the patient”) to find out one detail about the patient that has “nothing do with the reason they’re in the hospital.” This detail can be as simple as what the patient’s favorite movie is or what their spouse does for a living—an organic conversation that could begin, Dempsey imagines, with a nurse noticing flowers on a patient’s window sill. “As managers round and ask for a personal patient detail every day, the staff will start to make sure they have an answer,” Dempsey said.

Making a connection “apart from the reason that they’re in care” is essential in a successful patient experience, Dempsey said. It makes patients feel safe, and it helps caregivers connect with the person that is a patient instead of focusing on the task-driven, checklist-oriented health care environment of today. It also counteracts compassion fatigue by prompting a caregiver’s response of deep acting rather than surface acting. “It builds trust between the patient, family, and caregivers,” Dempsey said, noting that “trust is the foundation upon which optimal outcomes are built.”

Perhaps most importantly, storytelling reminds caretakers that care is about more than a number.  While scores, percentile rank and other data are important in determining strategy and opportunity, they are not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal, Dempsey said, “is to reduce the suffering of this person who came to you at the most vulnerable time in their lives, completely at the mercy of the people who are taking care of them, and placed their life in your hands.”