Humanising the patient journey

Modern healthcare features innumerable methods of technical investigation such as the MRI scan, blood tests and nerve conduction tests. All provide detailed information about structures and physiology state yet none tells us about the person, the human being.

Many people will undergo tests and often this is necessary to determine whether there is a serious pathology or changes in body that require specific procedures.

No matter what the test or investigation, it must never be forgotten that it is a human being ‘tested’, not a number in a line, or a condition, but an individual with thoughts, beliefs, expectations and fears. It is by addressing these that we can make the patient journey a human one that has meaning.

The patient journey usually begins when something feels wrong: a pain, a change in the way the body works or is experienced, a sudden incident or a gradual realisation that there is an altered sense of self. This threshold and realisation prompts action. A visit to the doctor or in the alarming situation a rapid transfer to a hospital, may be the first encounter with the healthcare system.

Those first moments of the experience, the thoughts, the feelings, the interactions, the words, the fear evoked by all of these, will impact upon the trajectory of the journey and of course the immediate care for an emergency.

At each of these points, when there is an opportunity to reassure, calm, listen, just be, they should be taken. These simple yet potent interjections that can be administered with ease in amongst the hullabaloo of tests, wires, medical language, white coats, stethoscopes, needles, injections and trolleys. Let them not be lost.

As we stroll into 2014, as the science progresses, it is reassuring to see some authors drawing upon philosophical thought, in particular phenomenology, so we can keep a firm footing in the patient’s experience, for this is where the real story resides. The patient narrative is the key thread that must be given room for expression via firm description, vague terms and bodily expression. The examination that follows; who examines who? The connection, the information flow that requires sound mind, as this is the function of the mind that must interact with the examiner.

So let us in healthcare be mindful of the human being at the centre of the story. The experience that they share with us is unique and an expression of their perception build upon a set of entrenched beliefs about their life, the World and their expectations — and hopes and dreams. We are in a strong position to oil the wheels that need to turn smoothly for a patient journey to lead anywhere meaningful.

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