Looking back on day one of the roundtable, there were a number of moments that gave me pause. Some ideas were new to me while others were a review of things learned prior but lost to the back of my mind by time. However, one simple thing that we can all do to improve communication, relationships and care stuck out to me—introductions.
Helen Haskell shared the tragic story of losing her son, Lewis, as a result of medical errors. Something she experienced that I see all the time is the lack of clarity regarding who’s who and who does what. All too often I’m guilty of contributing to this myself. As part of a team, particularly as a junior member of that team, it’s easy to forget to introduce yourself when you walk into a patient’s room. The sad thing is, simply introducing yourself, and re-introducing yourself each time you see that patient and family, is so simple yet so powerful. In Helen’s case, knowing that it was the intern and chief resident who kept returning to see her son rather than the on-call attending she was expecting might have empowered her to better advocate for her son.
An introduction is one small, cheap (both in time and money) and meaningful gesture that breaks down some of the communication barriers between doctors and patients, doctors and nurses, etc. I frequently work in the cardiovascular clinic of one of my institution’s training hospitals. At the start of the month, one of the new cardiology fellows took a minute to introduce himself to the nurses, medical assistants and other clinic staff. Based on the glowing complements of this physician that I overheard once he was out of earshot you would think no one had ever done that before. Perhaps nobody had.
Anonymity seems to provide fodder for resentment, mistrust and pushback. Who wants to take orders from a stranger barking orders? By just introducing ourselves we create a human connection and set the stage for more effective communication. And since communication is a root cause implicated in many medical errors, perhaps by just introducing (and re-introducing) ourselves we could prevent some errors without it costing a cent or even one minute of time. We might even enjoy it.