Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Challenging conversations

When pregnant of our second baby boy early 2015, the midwife at our local hospital detected an ectopic heartbeat during one of the antenatal visits. I was put on a fetal heart monitor immediately and was scheduled in for an advanced ultrasound later that day.

I remember it vividly: I entered the room to have the ultrasound and I could hardly hold back the tears. Fear was raging through my body and the only thought on my mind was: "What if there is something wrong with our baby?"

The specialist carrying out the ultrasound turned out to be an absolute expert in his profession. "One of the best" his lovely assistant whispered in my ear right before he got started. But he also turned out to be completely incapable of dealing with all my big emotions. When I started to cry he avoided any eye contact and kept looking at his screen. He ignored my tears and mumbled that I had to try and lie still whilst moving the transducer around over my belly. After a few minutes he started rambling about how the fetal arrhythmia included tachycardia, which he thought was supra-ventricular...

It turned out that meant our little boy was fine.

But what would have happened if this man was the one that had to bring me bad news about our baby? And had to deal with my feelings of intense sadness or anger?

As I've experienced first hand, but even more so in my day to day work as a corporate actor, it demonstrates that professionals working in Health Care have great knowledge but can sometimes lack an extremely important clinical competency: Emphatic Communication.

Communication with patients in today's healthcare is increasingly complex and more important than ever. Whether focused on disclosure of medical error, prenatal diagnoses or ethical quandaries arising from the ability to sustain life: today's Healthcare professionals face difficult conversations more and more as part of their day to day patient care.

Therefor I am thrilled to see that more and more Health Care Organisations and Medical Schools are working with role play actors to simulate patients and family members in training workshops. Because actors, also known as 'simulated patients', allow caregivers to EXPERIENCE these difficult situations as real life as it can get. In the debriefing the role play actors help the participants reflect on and understand what truly happened in a conversation. Without risking relationships or reputation.

This way of experiential learning prepares caregivers for the sometimes tough reality. And it is a development that will be highly appreciated by all patients.

Including myself ;)

PS. In a recent survey conducted by InterACT WA nearly all participants have described our actors' portrayal as realistic. 97% of participants reported that the actor was valuable to the learning process and 95% felt role play with other colleagues would not have been as educationally valuable. Would you like to know how we can help your organisation with role play simulation? Contact me here for a chat.


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