Communicate, Communicate, and communicate

“Speak little, do much.” by Benjamin Franklin has always been one of my favorite quotes. However, it struck me in the past three days that while action is important, speaking, or communicating is just as equally important, especially in healthcare. The story of Michael Skolnik clearly illustrate that it does not matter if you are doing/offering the best you could, patients and family and sometimes the providers can be harmed physically and psychologically when there is a communication breakdown.

We as care providers like to believe that we are “not that bad” in communicating with the patients, nevertheless now when I think back on my experience as a patient or a family member of a patient, I can easily think of places where there is a breakdown in communication. What scares me is that I did not think it is abnormal until very recently. As patients, we expect not being able to fully understand what the providers are saying, and as providers we assume that patients will ask if they have questions. It is these assumptions and lack of communication that put the safety of patients at risk. We oftentimes think communication is something that we as humans do naturally, but just as babies learning to talk or learning to speak a foreign language, learning to communicate with others, especially cross disciplines, takes practice, feedback from others, and more practice.

In order to improve, we must learn from our past mistakes, and this is where transparency comes in. I learn that being transparent is more than sharing stories. What we do with the stories heard is key. What went well? What were the challenges? And what can we do differently the next time? Through debriefing and reflecting, we can start to put everything together. I am very grateful for the opportunity to come to Telluride. Being removed from our regular life and immersed in nature no doubt help me focus on the important topic of patient safety. It also gives me the time to think and reflect without  to much distractions. After all, we are “trapped” in the mountains.

Other than being in Telluride, having the opportunity to learn and interact with students and faculty from different disciplines is something that I enjoy the most. Sitting in the classroom listening to the presentations and discussions, I kept trying to think back if similar topics (communication, teamwork, leadership, transparency…) were taught as a class in my nursing education. I am sure they were brought up at some points but weren’t talked about explicitly to improve the safety of patients. Having this goal in mind can really change the way we think, because then we learn to pull ourselves out and focus on working as a team for the benefit of the patients.

Looking across the classroom that was once a train depot at students from different countries, states, and disciplines, who are here to learn about how to improve patient safety, and how we can be the change in this area. I cannot help but imagine each of them one day working in the health care setting as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and administrators with the mindset of having patient safety as the core value. It is a beautiful picture.