By Chris Pointon
Communication in any setting is a vital and effective tool that is particularly important in the field of healthcare. If not done well, it can be agonising for the patient, relatives and healthcare workers.
This chapter looks at how an experience of poor communication turned into a social movement called #hellomynameis, which continues to improve communication and patient experience in healthcare and beyond.
• Why effective and timely communication really makes a difference
• How a simple introduction can improve someone’s life
• Why communication is important based on the experience of a doctor who was also a terminally ill patient
The #hellomynameis story
My wife – the late Dr Kate Granger MBE - was diagnosed in 2011 aged just 29 with a very rare and aggressive form of sarcoma that was to limit her life to only a few years. Kate passed away peacefully in 2016 on our 11th wedding anniversary in a local hospice. Over the five years of her illness she was to inspire others through many things and create a legacy that relates to communication.
During our many admissions to hospital it became obvious that not many staff members were saying a simple “hello” to Kate or I. It was disconcerting for us both and made the experience more difficult and isolating.
Recognising ours was not a one-off experience, we decided to do something about it. Using the power of social media we started a campaign called #hellomynameis to remind healthcare workers to introduce themselves at the start of every patient conversation, helping create a more therapeutic relationship.
At the outset of the campaign it became clear that there was very little insight and research on this topic; all we had was our experience and other anecdotal data. This strengthened our resolve and social media became a useful place to understand other people’s experiences and perspectives and to illustrate the scale of the problem.
Our belief was that although doctors need a single-minded approach when working through a lengthy to-do list, the focus should be on providing compassionate care. Our own patient experience was improved where the communication was more personal and inclusive.
So if a simple introduction humanised the process and took very little time, cost little or no money and improved the whole experience – why wouldn’t you do it?
Pushing an open door
Initial response across social media to our campaign was overwhelmingly positive and gave us the extra evidence we needed to sell the idea internally.
Recognising the value of improving patient communication in this way, many healthcare Trusts quickly committed to implementing #hellomynameis across all levels of their organisations.
Comms professionals helped cascade the relevant information across teams, from embedding campaign protocols to the creation of new email signatures with the #hellomynameis branding on.
The campaign was given additional weight, gravitas and promotion through endorsements from the Prime Minister and chief executives and chief nurses, but the viral way in which it spread came down to one thing – it resonated with everyone on a very personal level.
Through Kate’s experience as a patient and a doctor, she knew how satisfying it was to make a human connection with the patient and to hopefully make the experience less frightening and daunting for them.
Feeling like we’d had a proper conversation with a healthcare worker made such a difference to Kate, both as a patient and also when she practiced as a doctor for the elderly.
My personal belief is that people and this applies across all walks of life, who dismiss the importance of timely and effective communication, potentially sabotage their own careers and limit their capacity for fulfilment.
The Medical Defence Union reports that poor communication and rudeness are cited as reasons for complaints in 30% of cases.
A great way of considering this is to really think about how you, or one of your family, members would like to be treated and treat others that way – if you do this then you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
Communication is key
A key part of communication is making sure that it is appropriate for the situation and will have the desired impact on the individual or group receiving it.
As in so many situations, it is important to think before you speak and to avoid being dismissive of the person’s concerns or answers.
Across every organisation there are people who are fantastic communicators but then there are also those who need some assistance. Modelling good communication by enabling people to see it in action is critical to success.
One of the worst situations from Kate’s time in hospital was when a junior doctor was sent in to tell Kate some bad news. The doctor didn’t look at Kate when delivering this and scurried out of the room once they had said what they wanted to say.
Communication takes many forms and is not just verbal - non-verbal signs are equally as important to think about and can be majorly significant.
When talking about #hellomynameis, we teach people that facial expressions, eye contact, gestures and postures should not be defensive or intimidating. Little things like sitting down next to a patient so as you are at the same eye level rather than looming over them at the end of the bed makes a big difference.
What legacy do you want to leave?
Although the #hellomynameis campaign started in healthcare it is relevant in all parts of society. The simple act of introducing yourself creates a positive dialogue that can be built upon in terms of general engagement.
In healthcare the patient should be at the heart of and involved in all decisions made. One size doesn’t fit all and tailoring communication to each individual is critical. This works in other sectors too.
Since its conception in 2013, the campaign has expanded and #hellomynameis now operates in over 20 countries around the world. It is heavily used across the NHS and is growing daily. This year has seen a renewed focus through the NHS’s 70th anniversary celebrations.
Patient surveys have shown improvements in patient experience since the introduction of the campaign and a significant number of Trusts now include it as part of their Trust values. I receive many messages daily from across the world highlighting its positive impact.
Kate always wanted to make a difference to other people and with this campaign she improved communication across global healthcare and has left a very special legacy that continues to grow. I’m proud to be a part of it.