3 Keys to an Effective Pain Management Culture

effective pain management cultureI recently took my family to one of the new “escape room” experiences that seem to be popping up everywhere. Upon entering we were introduced to our Escape Room Professional (let’s call him Carl), and as he walked us over to our particular room he began explaining the process and rules of the game. However, it was obvious from how quickly Carl was muttering under his breath, that this must have been the 1347th time he had given this particular speech. In fact, it took a minute for me to realize that not only was he talking to us, but he was giving us instructions on how to play the game. At one point I actually had to stop Carl and ask him to speak more slowly, but even this didn’t help much. In the end we played, figured out the clues and got out within an hour—we had a great time. But, the whole thing was a bit hampered for me by our initial experience.

For my family and I, this was our very first escape room experience—we had no idea what we would see or do. For Carl, he was 5 hours into a Saturday shift and this was number 14 of the 30 appointments that would come through that day. He knew the speech he was supposed to give, and in his mind, the quicker he could get the speech out, the quicker he could get to the next group of hopeful escapees. But, while Carl was busy checking off his “gave the speech” box, my family and I were left off-balance, confused, and a little frustrated.

While this fun outing in no way comes close to a healthcare or patient experience, what is comparable is the absence of treating a new customer or patient as if each new experience is new to them. What this requires is true empathy.

Empathy

For the thousands of patients we will see in our careers, we must never forget that for them, this could be their first time for everything. For us, we are 5 hours into a 12 hour shift, we have 6 other patients, and this is literally the 1347th admit we have done in our career—but for the patient in the bed, and for the family in the room, this is a brand new experience. An experience tied to anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and in many cases, pain. Our patients and their families deserve a fresh attitude from us that calms their fears and anxieties, and lets them know that they are being cared for by someone who can empathize with them. Pain is a nearly universal symptom for our patients, and our first method of treatment should be true empathy for their situations.

Checking Our Assumptions

Our attitudes towards our patients can affect their stay greatly, and when it comes to pain control and pain management strategies we need to do some serious self-evaluation and ensure we are approaching each patient with compassion.

Empathy is the first step to making sure our mindset is correct as we interact with our patients, but to take it a step further, we need to treat each patient as an individual and not compare them to every patient or case that has come before. After treating hundreds or thousands of patients, it is understandable that we could become skeptical of patients’ complaints of pain, but we need to eliminate giving our patients the tags of “drug-seeking” or “addicts” before we learn about their cases.

While it is a reality that some patients falsify or exaggerate their claims of pain, we must respect our patients’ pain complaints or we run the risk of going from being skeptical to dismissive. If we really are going to do everything we can to address our patients’ pain, then we must begin by listening to them openly and without judgment.

Giving Our Patients Some Credit

Our patients are not children. Well…at least metaphorically. Even if you do treat pediatric patients, this can still apply to you. As caregivers we can sometimes fall into the trap of treating our patients like children—patronizing them and over-simplifying certain details of their care.

This can be especially true in pain management, when open and honest communication is essential. We must give our patients the benefit of the doubt that they can accept a realistic view of pain control—that pain control does not mean the elimination of pain. This requires a concerted effort to not only be honest and set realistic and functional pain goals, but it requires that we give each patient a clean slate as they begin their stay.

Yes, there will always be those patients who expect the impossible and have completely unrealistic views of pain management, but these patients must present themselves to us—we cannot use a patient’s background, history, or appearance to dictate how we view them before their treatment begins.

Back to the Room

So, did Carl’s rushed and half-hearted introduction ruin my family’s escape room experience? No. But, if he had assumed that this was our first game and put some time and effort into his introduction, would it have made our experience better? Absolutely.

How much more could efforts like these affect our patients and their families? Having a mindset of true empathy, putting aside our pre-conceived notions and assumptions, and giving our patients some credit can make all the difference in creating an effective pain management culture.
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