Amid a global pandemic that has pushed our healthcare system to the brink, we are relying on our frontline healthcare workers more than ever. We are forever indebted to them for their service, particularly as they face critical equipment shortages that put them at risk for the very disease that they are working around the clock to treat.
This unprecedented situation means doctors and nurses and other clinicians, regardless of specialty, are being asked to do things they have never done before. The crisis has also triggered a call for retired physicians and medical and nursing students to join the fight. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, questions about medical liability have already come up.
In a recent survey we asked hospital executives what issues worry them the most. Gaps in training and practice came up time and again. One executive stated, “Clinicians that have 20 years of experience were trained differently than a clinician with one year of experience.” Another called out the lack of standardized protocols and the inclusion of the full care team in decision-making.
We asked physicians the same question. Interestingly, gaps between interdisciplinary teams and lack of communication were raised among this cohort as well. These are very real differences in clinical approaches that are coming to light at a difficult time.
Given the circumstances, it is understandable that some patients are wary too. They may be wondering, “how prepared is my doctor or my nurse to practice under these conditions, and do they possess the knowledge needed to get better?” There is a heightened need for trust in clinicians at a time when many so many lives are in their hands.
In a 2017 paper, Carlos Pellegrini, M.D., a noted surgeon and former CMO at UW Medicine, talks about how trust is built over multiple interactions. In the healthcare world, it’s an intricate fabric woven with the patient’s perception of the physician’s skills, interpersonal attributes and values, as well as the patient’s impression of how the system works. Trust has been shown to increase the likelihood of adherence to treatment recommendations and to increase satisfaction with the physician’s care.
With many Covid-19 patients being cared for in emergency or triage settings, there is a limited opportunity to establish a connection over the course of multiple interactions. Today, providers need to be more creative to earn the trust of patients, and they are rising to the challenge.
I am heartened by stories of providers whose faces are now obscured by masks and shields choosing to wear prominent buttons or lanyards with pictures of themselves to reveal a caring face. The gesture helps ease patient anxiety and makes them as comfortable as possible. It can be frightening to see your doctor covered head-to-toe in protective gear as they prepare to treat you. This crisis has brought to the fore the importance of a patient-centric, highly human approach to providing care that I am optimistic will be carried through by providers with even more vigilance after Covid-19 has passed.
Moving Forward, Together
The disruption we are seeing today from the Covid-19 crisis is forcing a recalibration of what is truly important. There is widespread, renewed appreciation for healthcare professionals on the front lines and a recognition of how much we rely on them in times of need. This is a pivotal moment and a starting point for providers to rebuild the nation’s trust in healthcare.
An important piece will be ensuring all clinicians have access to the latest, evidence-based information to treat their patients. We know that tens of thousands of healthcare professionals are taking steps to refresh their clinical knowledge and make use of technology that can aid them in delivering the highest quality care. Healthcare providers are working harder than ever to keep us safe and for that reason, we can trust that we are in caring and able hands.