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How do you enjoy musac?

It’s Friday evening. Your customer, client or patient needs something. You’ve been trying to arrange it or get the necessary authorisation over the phone and now you’ve been put on hold listening to musac. You had advised this person in all good faith that what they need to make a decision will be here today. The minutes tick by and then the phone goes dead. The queue of people waiting is growing longer. A tired child is screaming somewhere nearby and you are already running late.

Over 54% of physicians report a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. The number is up 10% from just three years ago. Who is to blame? If you ask many physicians, the fault lies among leaders involved in healthcare finance, policy and clinical administration. Sachin Jain

You can choose your reaction to the trial by phone on Friday evening. This scenario is not uncommon and as a doctor it won’t be the first or last time you will experience it. Yet each time it happens it may evoke the same negative emotions until you choose otherwise.

Picture by Clurross

Do you take the shortest route to add value?

Every thriving business adds value. If it didn’t it would not exist. Healthcare shares many points of difference with any other service but none is more remarkable than the  ability to forge connections via the physical examination. It meets our fundamental need when we are ill.

Treatment that uses direct touch can have a depth and potency that can have a great therapeutic impact, which provides some explanation for why so many people are seeking out their own “professional touchers” or are filling the waiting rooms of physicians, waiting for the doctor to find the cause of the pain and make them better. In the process, they are touched. When the patient is assured that the work of the professional toucher is free from infringement, that sexual contact is clearly out of bounds, and that the patient can say “no” to any intervention the body-work practitioner proposes, then the patient can have the experience of trust and physical touch in the context of a controlled respectful relationship. Sharon K Farber

If you are a healthcare professional in what proportion of cases don’t  you perform a physical exam? Why?

Picture by Army Medicine

What is your approach to the biggest health risk of our time?

Sixty to eighty percent of people are now overweight or obese. This is associated with considerable morbidity. Yet it is a very complex issue and the causes of the condition are many and varied.

…..the dramatic rise in the incidence of obesity in many countries appears to be due to the complex interaction of a variety of factors including genetic, physiologic, environmental, psychological, social, economic, and political. Wright and Aronne

The experience of overweight people with healthcare professionals is not universally good.

Seventy‐six individuals (aged 16–72) were interviewed. Most had struggled with their weight for most of their lives (n = 45). Almost all had experienced stigma and discrimination in childhood (n = 36), as adolescents (n = 41) or as adults (n = 72). About half stated that they had been humiliated by health professionals because of their weight. Thomas et al

Over my whole 40 year dieting history I found two doctors who have said ‘well, come back once a week or once a fortnight and I will weigh you’. I found that very helpful and useful, because you feel like somebody is on your side. (65 year old female)

 They have helped because they guided me and pointed things out and they were there for me. If I’ve got questions they are helpful. (28 year old female)

 Oh well, I have spoken to my doctor about it and he just says get more exercise. I did mention it to one other doctor and he said there is only one way to lose weight and that’s meal replacement drinks or tablets. So I never went back to him because I don’t agree with that. (49 year old male)

 My doctor keeps saying, you need to lose weight. And I say, yes, I know that and I want to and I try to watch what I am eating, but it is just getting harder and harder. (59 year old female)

If you are a healthcare professional it is very likely that you will see several people today who are overweight or obese. How will you raise the topic with them? How will you know they want to address the issue? What help will your offer? How do you know you have been helpful to others in these circumstances?

Picture by Paola Kizette Cimenti

Show and tell

Nothing is as compelling as seeing a vision of  yourself in the future. Increasingly healthcare professionals have the scope to offer people a vision of the future. It’s possible to display projected changes on avatars, websites or infographics. How might you show people what might happen in the foreseeable future?

Recent literature shows that new technologies can be used to promote patient engagement. The present contribution focuses on Virtual Worlds (VWs), namely virtual environments that multiple users can experience together thanks to the use of avatars. Indeed, VWs offer interesting opportunities for patient engagement interventions on two levels. On the individual level, customized avatars are known to have relationships with users’ inner experience and Self-conception, so that they may constitute a peculiar additional tool for psychological assessment. Moreover, they are able to promote healthy behaviors thanks to a strong vicarious reinforcement (Proteus effect). On the collective level, VWs constitute an ideal platform to support the emergence of collective flow states (Networked Flow) which are related to the patients’ creative activity and well-being. Healthy Avatars, Healthy People: Care Engagement Through the Shared Experience of Virtual Worlds

Picture by Trina Alexander

Do your words strike a discordant chord?

Most upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses. However saying that to a parent with a sick child doesn’t always help:

Parent 2: They think they make you feel better saying it’s a virus…but they make you feel worse

Parent 7: When they say it’s a virus, I mean what kind of virus? Just where does it come from? Parent 1: You’re none the wiser how they got it, what you can do, how long it will go on…

Parent 5: You feel you’re no further forward…you just have to accept it if they don’t explain further, I would like to know…

Parent 2: It’s an unknown thing to a doctor, they can’t pinpoint it, they don’t know really…

Parent 1: I feel a bit annoyed really because you think they’ve studied for years to learn that and I haven’t studied at all, you feel dissatisfied as if you wanted to hear something more…you just wish that everything was clean cut

Parent 4: At least if you really knew what it was then it’s easier to cope with (Group 3) Joe Kai BMJ 1996

What do you say in these circumstances?

Picture by Massimo Variolo

What small thing could add value?

I didn’t think about it at the time. He left my consulting room with a letter to a specialist. I advised him to le me know if the appointment he is offered doesn’t suit and that I would find another specialist who might be able to see him sooner. He had returned to the waiting room because he’d forgotten he was overseas the following week and the appointment he was able to get wasn’t going to work out. It would have been a matter of minutes to change the name of the specialist on the letter and get him on his way. An hour later someone in reception told me he was waiting for the change of name on his letter, I hadn’t been alerted. He had wasted an hour, patiently sitting, assuming I was too busy to deal with the matter and the shine was coming off his experience at the clinic. There was no major policy change required just a bit of foresight and team work to make sure that people aren’t unnecessarily inconvenienced by a system that potentially serves them very well.

Picture by Daniel Pink

Are you aware when you are flagging?

Are you aware when you are tired? Do you look at your reaction to any situation and wonder if it came from a place of fatigue? How do you deal with that?

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago. Friedrich Nietzsche

This study aimed to evaluate the variations in mood states and empathy that occur during the internship year. Consistent with our expectations, results of the first administration of the POMS and IRI demonstrated that interns in this cohort arrived with high levels of vigor, energy, and a well-established ability to demonstrate empathic concern. However, as early as November, we found that significant mood changes were already evident among our cohort. Interns became more angry and depressed. These data support previously reported findings that internship negatively affects personal well-being. Bellini et al

Fatigue and sleep deprivation, associated with long working hours and shift work, impacts on doctors’ personal safety, increasing the likelihood of occupational accidents, road traffic crashes and needlestick injuries. It also increases risks to patient safety through clinical errors. BMA

Picture by Dominique Archambault 

How do you prepare for disagreement?

Sometimes you might be asked for something that seems entirely pointless. In healthcare almost every speciality has examples of such challenging situations. In intensive care and oncology such issues are most poignant as patients may end up suffering before death:

In a retrospective review, we identified 100 patients of 331 bioethical consultations who had futile or medically inappropriate therapy. The average age of patients was 73.5 ± 32 years (mean ± 2 SD) with 57% being male. Fifty-seven percent of the patients were admitted to the hospital with a degenerative disorder, 21% with an inflammatory disorder, and 16% with a neoplastic disorder. The family was responsible for futile treatment in 62% of cases, the physician in 37% of cases, and a conservator in one case. Unreasonable expectation for improvement was the most common underlying factor. Family dissent was involved in 7 of 62 cases motivated by family, but never when physicians were primarily responsible. Liability issues motivated physicians in 12 of 37 cases where they were responsible but in only 1 of 62 cases when the family was (χ2 5 degrees of freedom = 26.7, p < 0.001).

Seth et al

This scenario may be avoided if it is anticipated as a ‘set play‘. List all the ways you may be adding to the person’s problems and consider how you might avoid contributing to a bad situation.

Picture by Isabelle

When did you last have dinner at our place?

We advise people about all sort of things- this is good for you, that will work for you, the other is bad for you…..But can you imagine yourself having a meal at that person’s home? Sitting in their car? Watching television in their sitting room? Shopping in their company? What’s it like walking in their shoes?

Picture by Jeff Kramer

How do you frame disappointment?

Things don’t always unfold as you might have hoped. What will you do when that happens next time? How do you plan to live with disappointment? You have two options: accept it or not. But what exactly happened the last time you were sorely disappointed? Did the person you met after getting bad news hear all about it from you? Did you get over it? How? If you are in healthcare did it impact on your work that day? Why or why not?

Picture by Kevin Dooley