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It’s No Fad! Mindfulness is a Game-Changer for the Patient and Staff Experience

June 4th, 2019 by Guest Communications


Written by: Wendy Leebov

A nurse manager shared this illuminating story:

“A patient complained that no one had been in all night to check on her.  I wanted to find out if that was true and investigated.  I learned that the patient’s nurse had in fact gone into the patient’s room four times, doing things for or to the patient each time.  Four times!  The nurse had been there physically and felt caring, yet the person who was the patient didn’t feel she received any quality contact or caring from the nurse.”

Sadly, this is a typical patient’s experience.  We all know that folks who work in healthcare are caring! Yet, in today’s pressured work environment of endless multi-tasking and multiple priorities, our caring may not come across effectively to patients and families.  And, we’re in danger of losing connection with our caring mission because of the stress of endless to-do lists and intense workloads.  This is anxiety-provoking for patients, draining for staff and fodder for patient complaints and dissatisfaction.

Clearly, spending MORE time with patients isn’t the answer.  The fact is, unless barriers are removed and staffing and processes improved, there is no more time to spend with patients.

So what CAN we do?  We can make certain that our caring is felt by patients and families during the precious time we do spend with them.  It’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

If I could advance only ONE communication skill to create breakthroughs in the patient and staff experience, it would be mindfulness.  (In the Language of Caring®, we call it “presence.”)  This highly learnable skill involves controlling your attention so the person on the receiving end feels like the center of your universe during the precious moments you have with them.  And it will never go out of style!

The Payoffs of Practicing Presence
You really connect so your caring comes across loud and clear and your work becomes more meaningful.  Patients and families feel supported, less anxious and they actually heal faster.  Also, when you are fully present, you don’t miss valuable cues about the person’s thoughts and feelings — cues that help you engage them effectively and ensure their safety.

Presence doesn’t take more of your time.  It makes every moment of connection with the patient precious and impactful.

Tips for Practicing Presence

  • Take a deep breath. Bring your attention to the present moment.
  • Physically shift to a posture of presence. Place your legs evenly on the floor. Open your palms. Face the person fully. Aim your heart at theirs.
  • Lean in.
  • Tune in.
  • Smile and make eye contact.
  • Open your ears, eyes and heart. Listen to the person’s thoughts and feelings.
  • If you become distracted, take notice and tell yourself to return your focus and caring to the person in the present moment.

NOT Being Present: The Signs

  • Eyes wandering; looking away
  • Maintaining eye contact, but not really listening
  • Doing something else while someone is talking to you
  • Chatting with a coworker while customer is waiting
  • Allowing interruptions by any and all people or calls
  • Allowing an important interruption without excusing yourself and explaining
  • Acting tired, bored or distracted
  • Looking at your watch
  • Interrupting the person talking
  • Turning your back without apologizing or explaining
  • Walking away with no explanation or goodbye

Do your own experiment: Help your team enhance their communication of caring through the practice of presence.  Ask them to experiment with a small number of patients and family members.  Then set a date to discuss the results.

The Impact Is Amazing: Staff Speak About the Power of Presence

  • Eileen, RN: “I’ve been a nurse for 35 years. I know my patients have always liked me and I thought I knew it all.  But the talk about presence made me wonder if maybe I could do a little better on that. So, I tried it with a couple of patients.  It felt funny at first, but then they responded, and I thought, WOW, this really feels good.  I’m so used to running around like a maniac.  I hope the other old fuddy-duddies like me will try this before they reject it, because it’s really good –for everybody, and they’ll find it doesn’t take more time.  Patients relax and trust us more, and so they’re not as demanding.  It’s also helps me remember more why I became a nurse.”
  • Katie, Billing Rep: “I work in Billing. Patients call me to complain all day long.  I thought NOTHING could make that easier.  But then I worked out a great way to greet people and I now ask them what they want to be called and then I call them that.  And I jot down the name so I don’t forget all.  And then I force myself to really listen, and that means listening to how mad they are.  And I tell them, “I want to help you.”  And I keep using their name.  I think it’s really going better.  It seems like they don’t stay so angry.”
  • Delores, Nursing Assistant: “We’re in the middle of construction.  We’ve had to overflow our patients to another unit.  The staffing is tight and it’s been nuts around here with lots going on.  What has kept us sane is presence.  When I go in to see a patient, I am grounded and I can tune in to the patient.  Then, I go back out into the craziness.”
  • Sam, Dietary Worker: “I deliver trays.  I thought this presence thing was for nurses mostly.  But I decided to see what would happen if I tried to make my patients feel like a million bucks when I went in there.  So, I tried the presence thing.  It feels really different going in there now.  Outside the door, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I can make a difference with this patient, even if the food tastes bad.”
  • Millie, RN: “I used to go into the patient’s room…in what I now describe as my armor.  I had my stethoscope, pills, clipboard, datascope and eventually, with all of that armor, I connected to the patient.  Now, I take off my stethoscope, I leave my clipboard and scope outside the room and I walk in quietly – just me.  I sit down and hold the patient’s hand (if that feels right).  I say, ‘My name is Millie and I’m your nurse.  How are you?’  It’s an open-ended question – person to person – and it opens doors.”

This post appeared on the Language of Caring blog and is shared with consent:

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