In the beginning of my career I thought I had more than enough to do with handling ONE patient. Having relatives around seemed to me like having additional “opponents”. They appeared like someone who has additional demands and wishes. Turns out I was wrong. The truth is that the patient’s relatives are our allies.
It’s not only our duty to inform the family of the course of their loved one. If optimally conducted on the long run these conversations saves us a lot of time.
Here are my 6 reasons why they can be of tremendous value in our work :
- They give us additional information about the medical history and lifestyle habits of the patient. Often times patients are embarrased to admit to smoking or other habits. This happens a lot of times when women drag their husbands to the Doctor. (Hint: do not take the role of the judge about certain bad habits. Doesn’t change a thing and puts an unnecssary burden on your relationship to the patient. )
- They think more clearly than the patient.
Many patients struggle with this, because, well, they are sick.Did you ever try to
- do a crosswordpuzzle on a mountain at 18,000 feet above see level, thus having shortness of breath?
- think clearly with a major headache?
- Play chess while throwing up?
Practically impossible. Having a trusted person around, who can serve as the patient’s trusted advisor can influence the patient in a positive way, and can understand and memorize the amount of given information better.
- They can act upon the patient more effectively than anybody else.This can be an enormous help in convincing the patient to follow a treatment plan at home or to do an indicated diagnostic procedure.
- Give comfort after bad news were delivered. In times of understaffing, there is too little time for medical personell to deal with the patients emotions. Relatives can be of tremendous value for the patient in these situations.
- They can translate if the patient does not speak your primary language. Many doctors react irritated or even judgmental when they hear the patient doesn’t speak their language. Well, we’ve got to get over it and deal with it. Having a translator around can save a tremendous amount of time.
- In unconscious patients they are the only source of extremely valuable information. Many diagnostic procedures can be avoided if a thorough medical history is obtained. That is why one of the first things I do when handling an unconscious patient after stabilizing the patient is to question the family of what happened.
In all these situations a focused and structured talk with relatives saves time on the long run. With any skill, this one also has to be learned. Here is how to learn any new skill.
Question: What is your main motivation to connect to your patient’s relatives?