It started off as one of those crazy days. Eating my breakfast out of a napkin as I walk, and tying my tie at stoplights on the way to the hospital.
As I walked into the Operating Room holding area, it was the usual scene. Doctors and nurses rushing past each other. Everyone waiting for my 7 signatures to prevent a "Never Event." Rushed voices, and a tangle of regulations to navigate.
Then, something shifted. Maybe my demeanor was different or the sunny weather made everyone take their time,. But suddenly the rush to the OR took on the easy, collaborative, good-humored tone that it used to have, when medical collaboration came naturally and the pace of healthcare was slower. As I walked down the hall, I had conversation (and collaboration) after conversation:
Dr. Gupta: "Thanks for seeing my Dad. What did you think?"
Me: "He's such a nice man. I think we're OK to do the surgery the way we talked about on Monday. Also, could you shed some light on what he said about his abdominal pain?"
Michelle, the OR nurse: "We have this equipment available for this morning, Do you want anything else? We were thinking that this would be a good setup."
Me: "Looks good. Just so you have an idea, let me show you this photo of the patient, and here is his history, by the way."
Michelle: "Hmm... got it. Oh, then I have another idea. Let me get this other thing ready as well."
Me: "Anything else I can do to stop you from running around?"
Michelle: "Nope! I'm glad I talked to you! This will be a lot easier."
Dr. Brandt: "So, looks like we're set to do the case together next Friday. Any thoughts on it?"
Me: "Like you said before, this is a risky procedure for Mr. S. The trouble is, he's run out of options. I tried for over two years to treat this problem without surgery because of his multiple medical conditions."
Dr. Brandt: "That makes me feel better. I was really worried... but now at least I know that other options were tried."
Leah, the Recovery Room nurse: "You know the little girl you did surgery on yesterday? What is she talking about? Something about a knob?"
Me (laughing): "Yep! Rachael and I talked about controlling her pain by imagining a knob that can she can control and 'turn down' her discomfort. Have you used self-hypnosis much?" [Then, a brief conversation about self-hypnosis ensues.]
Leah: "That makes so much sense. Focusing on healing instead of pain is exactly why I hate being forced to ask the patient 'How much PAIN do you have, on a scale of 1 to 10?' Do you think we can do anything about it?"
Carol, the nurse on the floor: "This Mom is kind of nervous. Everything is fine, but I think it best if you could come up and just make a quick check."
Me: "Thanks for letting me know. And I'm happy to see you! It's so nice to talk like we used to once in a while."
Looked at one by one, there is nothing special about this collection of conversations. But it's a rare day in this new world of EMRs and regulations that it actually happens. This day was a good day-- a simple day of medical collaboration and happy providers.
Here's what I noticed about it:
- Doctors and nurses are working together on the patient's behalf
- Providers are desparately seeking support, input, and encouragement... and when provider burnout
- Support is there, when providers seek it out
- Human, personal patient care happens, despite the systemic barriers, forms, and check-boxes
- Providers really care -- on a deep, emotional level -- about their patients.
In the everyday stress of being a provider and the commitment of the medical profession, this pleasure in caring for patients can start to disappear. The day I describe above was a good one, and I hope more of your days can be, too. So, in service to that...
5 tips to simplify medical collaboration and make every day a good day in the OR:
- Remember the patient. Despite all the regulatory hurtles, always keep in mind that it is the patient, not the record, you are caring for.
- Know that you're not the only one who's stressed. The truth is that your colleagues, no matter where in the hierarchy, are as stressed as as you are (or more so.) Remembering that can help you give people the benefit of the doubt and help you feel more like part of a team.
- Take a second to encourage someone. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to support each other-- and it pays off in so many ways.
- Search out and use the tools available to you. Whether it's telemedicine, a great pen, or a new app, experiment with the tools that can help you care for your patients and your colleagues.
- Keep trying. Keep looking for better ways to work happily as a healthcare provider. Happy providers mean improved patient satisfaction, so it couldn't be more important. These ways are still there, but we must winnow through more chaff. You care and your colleagues care. So keep trying.