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COMMENTARY: Doctor, hello thyself — it’s good for patients

Dr. Kate Granger's story is inspiring. I am convinced it needs to be shared with many Canadian doctors and also with the medical staff at hospitals who, sadly, often need to be reminded to be more receptive to their patients' vulnerabilities and why it is so important to remember that just saying hello and sharing your name and status with them is so 'therapeutic.'
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Kate-Granger
Dr. Kate Granger died at age 34 last year after helping humanize health care in Great Britain. (Wikipedia)

By DOROTHY GRANT

When I recently visited someone in a hospital, I was somewhat concerned when two men dressed in white coats arrived. Neither of them introduced themselves, but I assumed that they were medical residents.

Nevertheless, what bothered me most of all was that they clearly believed it was not necessary to introduce themselves.

Now, I am well aware that the medical staff at a hospital are very busy people. Still, I believe it is essential that they recognize a simple introduction goes a long way.

Years ago, while I was on the staff of what was then the Medical Society of Nova Scotia as their public relations co-ordinator, I sometimes responded to calls from members of the public who happened to be upset about the way they'd been treated at an emergency department. It didn't have anything to do with the medical care they had received; it was because the individuals they had first encountered hadn’t told them their names or what their role was.

I have since discovered that the issue of medical professionals failing to introduce themselves has generated a great deal of attention in a number of medical journals.

One of the most impressive stories I came across was that of a British physician, Dr. Kate Granger, a young hospital consultant who created the "Hello, my name is ..." campaign.

This is what she had to say on the campaign website about why she launched this initiative. "I’m a doctor, but also a terminally ill cancer patient. During a hospital stay in August 2013 with post-operative sepsis, I made the stark observation that many staff looking after me did not introduce themselves before delivering my care. It felt incredibly wrong that such a basic step in communication was missing."

The Wikipedia entry about her describes the encounter that most upset her: "I’m 29 years old, I know I’ve got cancer, I’m in a side room. I can hear everything that’s going on outside. I’m in pain and alone. A junior doctor comes to see me to talk to me about the results of the MRI scan I’d had earlier in the week. I’d never met this doctor before. He came into my room, he sat down in the chair next to me and looked away from me. Without any warning or asking if I wanted anyone with me, he just said, 'Your cancer has spread.' He then could not leave the room quick enough, and I was left in deep psychological distress. I never saw him again. I am a little bit psychologically scarred by this experience.”

Later, during an interview on a BBC radio program, she disclosed: "The lack of introductions really made me feel like just a diseased body and not a real person."

When someone finally did introduce themselves, she said, "It really did make a difference to how comfortable I was and less lonely I was in hospital."

So what did the terminally ill Dr. Granger do to remedy the situation? Well, she created a campaign to encourage health-care staff to introduce themselves.

It soon had the support of more than 400,000 doctors, nurses, therapists, receptionists and porters in over 90 organizations, including NHS (National Health Service) Trusts across England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish government also announced that it was allocating £40,000 to NHS boards to roll out the campaign across the country.

Soon, several British hospitals began supplying their medical staff with badges that read: “Hello, my name is" ... Bill, Mary, etc.

Dr. Granger died at age 34 in July last year. But before her death, she had received the accolades she deserved. In 2014, NHS England launched the Kate Granger Awards for Compassionate Care and again in 2015 when she was awarded a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire distinction for her services to the NHS and improving care.

Her story is inspiring. I am convinced it needs to be shared with many Canadian doctors and also with the medical staff at hospitals who, sadly, often need to be reminded to be more receptive to their patients' vulnerabilities and why it is so important to remember that just saying hello and sharing your name and status with them is so "therapeutic.”

I also want to share this footnote, which I also came across during my research.

It was in a medical article titled Common Courtesy Lacking Among Doctors-in-Training. It had been written by Dr. Leonard Feldman, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the associate professors of the internal medicine residency program at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore.

He writes that “Johns Hopkins investigators have found that doctors-in-training are unlikely to introduce themselves fully to hospitalized patients or sit down to talk to them eye to eye, despite research suggesting that courteous bedside manners improve medical recovery along with patient satisfaction.’’

Feldman says that when he brings trainees into a patient's room on rounds, he makes sure they all introduce themselves. Even if it's unlikely that the patient will remember everyone, it creates a better relationship, he says — adding that modelling appropriate behaviour for interns is a good place to start.

"The hospital is a dizzying place," he says. "It's a new crew all the time — in the emergency room, on the unit, the day team, the night team, the nurses, the respiratory therapist, the pharmacist. By introducing ourselves, we can go a long way toward making the entire hospital experience a little less daunting."

Few will disagree that this isn’t very good advice.

Dorothy Grant is a freelance writer in Halifax.



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