March 11th marked the beginning of 2018’s Patient Safety Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) in cooperation with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). This year, Patient Safety Awareness Week focuses on safety culture and patient engagement, a cause that Tanenbaum wholeheartedly supports. At Tanenbaum, we believe that patients cannot be safe and engaged if they face religious discrimination and bias in health care settings. As our contribution to Patient Safety Awareness Week, we would like to take this opportunity to discuss some small, but meaningful ways that providers can better understand and communicate with patients.
Currently, in health care settings, religion and spirituality are components of patient care that are frequently overlooked or ignored. This is largely because providers don’t think it’s relevant to patient care, except for in end-of-life contexts, or they don’t feel comfortable broaching this topic with patients and their families. Yet, formal religious affiliations and/or spiritual beliefs and practices are often very important to patients and their families. If conversations regarding religion and spirituality don’t take place between patients and providers, providers could miss an integral piece of the puzzle, and miss an opportunity to better connect with and treat patients.
When conducting a spiritual history, we recognize that many health care professionals are pressed for time, so instead of asking a number of detailed questions about a patient’s religious or spiritual beliefs, we suggest that you ask one more comprehensive question, which is “Do you have any religious or spiritual concerns related to your health that you would like me to know about?” This question addresses any immediate concerns a patient or provider might have about religion and spirituality, and makes the patient feel more comfortable discussing these issues with their provider. If the patient doesn’t have any immediate concerns, it is important to revisit the issue as your relationship with that patient progresses.
In order to combat religious discrimination and provide more patient centered care, providers should strive to open pathways of communication with their patients, to build trust and establish stronger relationships between patients and providers. It is important to note that not all religious discrimination is conscious and overt; in fact, it is more likely that the prejudice patients encounter is unconscious, stemming from ingrained attitudes and assumptions that manifest through behaviors. Communication is one of the best tools a provider has to break down barriers and stereotypes that can negatively impact patient care.
For example, when speaking with a patient or co-worker, it is important to listen actively. If you are already constructing what you will say next, that means you’ve stopped listening. In order to be a more effective health care professional and a more respectful co-worker, remember to listen to what the other person is saying, wait until they are done making their point, and take time to construct ta response so you are not responding from a place of anger or defensiveness.
Safety culture and patient engagement are important steps in building a more inclusive and productive health care system. If you are a provider or health care professional and are looking for more communication tips that will allow you to have more effective conversations with your patients, clients, or coworkers we have compiled a list of Tips for Respectful Communication and information on how to conduct Spiritual Histories.
Have a happy and healthy Patient Safety Awareness Week!
The Tanenbaum Health Care Team