Developing Stage Presence in Health Care
Sandy Myerson, RN, MBA/MS, Managing Consultant, Press Ganey Associates
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Stage actors, movie stars and dancers have it. Musicians and rock stars have it. Newscasters and national lecturers have it. What do they have that health care providers could benefit from incorporating into their daily work? Stage presence! It’s not just actors, musicians and dancers who need it today. Doctors and nurses can use the tools of the theater to connect with patients, resulting in greater understanding of treatment and reduced anxiety.
Many in health care disagree. “I went to nursing school so I could help people, not to learn how to be an actor,” sums up this attitude.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines stage presence as the ability to command the attention of an audience by the impressiveness of one’s manner or appearance. Presence is derived from the word “present”; therefore stage presence means focus and attention on the interaction at hand – to be in the moment. Health care providers are often distracted, prioritizing simultaneous requests for their attention, yet they need to establish immediate rapport with patients. Stage presence means the ability to set aside distractions, giving undivided attention during interactions with patients and family members and using effective communication to establish that immediate connection.
There is more pressure than ever to improve patient satisfaction scores and waiting times in the emergency department. Hospitals are now reporting data regarding average length of stay in the ED, with the expectation that the data will soon be publicly available. Additionally, hospitals will feel the impact of achievement in value-based purchasing measures this spring; studies have shown that the experience patients have in the ED sets the stage for how satisfied they are with their inpatient stay as reflected in scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. Reducing waiting times and the average length of stay are not sufficient to improve the patient experience; staff members and physicians must also communicate with care and compassion. EDs that rank in the top decile for patient satisfaction have not only implemented strategies to improve patient flow, they also have a culture in which all members of the care team have learned to use certain phrases and words during patient interactions and transitions along the ED visit, embracing the elements of stage presence.
That requires all staff members to “act” a certain way, at all times, regardless of any stress they might be experiencing in their personal lives. Additionally, much of the work performed in an ED is done in view of patients, so staff members are always on-stage – they need to leave the work area to be off-stage. Finally, work becomes routine for staff members and physicians – it is just another day in the office. Yet for the patient, the visit to the ED is anything but routine. For many, it is the first encounter with the hospital; they’re not feeling well, don’t know what to expect and are anxiety-ridden. Often, patients fear the worst. “Is this cancer?” “Am I having a heart attack?” “My father died when he was the age I am now.” Keeping in mind the patient’s perspective will help staff members treat the “routine” patient complaint with the level of attention and focus required so that the patient feels valued.
There are a few key words and phrases health care providers can deliver to patients using stage presence to help ease anxiety and demonstrate compassion and concern. When patients present to the ED, clinicians always ask, “What brings you in today?” They should also ask, “What are you most concerned about?” Responses to the latter question give physicians and nurses important information that will enable them to address patients’ concerns directly, resulting in a higher level of patient satisfaction. Another key phrase clinicians can use to connect with patients is to say, “I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well.” This immediately communicates a sense of empathy. When followed with, “We’re going to do everything we can to help you feel better,” patients often breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you take their concern seriously.
When care providers connect with patients in a caring and compassionate manner, patients’ anxiety diminishes. When doctors and nurses focus on the patient, listen actively and respond accordingly, rapport and trust develop. These approaches, when combined with efficient ED processes, result in a higher-quality patient experience.
Stage presence isn’t just for actors anymore.