putting the worry in the roomThere’s a tool I’ve been working on and refining for the medical field, and I’d like to share it with you. It’s a simple concept I call “Proactive Anticipation,” which means anticipating the needs of a patient and proactively saying something before they do. It’s a great way to remove or break the tension in the room. 

I think Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern day nursing, said it best: “Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion.” So rather than just keeping your head down and doing the task at hand, how do you proactively address the elephant in the room (fear and anxiety) before it has the chance to do any more harm to patients and their experience?

I sometimes refer to it as “putting the worry in the room” because from the patient or family member’s perspective, worry is a very real factor in virtually every aspect of their healthcare experience:

“Did I park in the right parking lot?”

“Is this the right hospital entrance to same day surgery?”

“Did I turn off the coffee maker?”

“Did I bring my insurance card?”

Let’s say you walk into a patient’s room and they have a look of fear on their face because they’re getting ready for surgery.

You could put the worry in the room before they do, by saying something like, Good morning Mrs. Poore, and Happy Tuesday. You know, it’s very common to be worried before a surgical procedure like yours, but the good news is you don’t need to worry. Dr. Johnson has done this same procedure for many years and she’s the best! You’re in great hands. Plus, I’ll be in the operating room with you today, right by your side every step of the way. Do you have any questions or concerns that I can address now to help ease your mind?

Or another patient scenario:

Good evening, Mrs. Johnson. Tomorrow is your ‘go home day.’  I know you’ve been here quite a few days and you may have some questions. I’ve cared for many patients who get a little nervous about going home after a surgery like yours because they’re not quite sure how to take care of themselves once they get home. Not to worry! When your husband arrives tomorrow, we’ll go over everything with both of you and we’ll answer any questions you might have. We know you may have questions when you get home so we’ll also give you and your husband our contact information so you can reach us. Our case manager, Karla, will also be here. She’ll be calling you each day to check in and make sure the visiting nurse is taking care of everything we discussed. Can I address any questions or concerns you have now to make sure you have a restful night’s sleep?

Proactive anticipation also works wonders for new employees.  You can also use the phrase “you’re probably thinking” here in general orientation: “Many of you new employees are probably thinking”:

– What time is lunch today?

– Is lunch on the house?

– What time will it end?

– Will this be a fun day or will we just speak at you all day?”

Another practical example: I know what you’re probably thinking. As a new employee, how will I ever remember all this information today? Please don’t worry, our job is to set you up for success! Tomorrow, when you get to your work location, you’ll be assigned a preceptor or “onboarding buddy.” They’ll be your mentor for the next two weeks and they’ll show you how all of this new information today comes to life in your specific department and role. They’ll also be there to answer any questions as you adjust to your new position.

Proactive communication – or putting the worry in the room – is an easy tool that anyone on the care team can use to help make the experience better for patients, family members, or employees.

Here’s the bottom line: World-class healthcare providers do two things better than their competition. First, they deliver clinical care with expertise and efficiency. Second, they do it in a way that engages and involves patients and family members, making them feel good about their experience. Proactive anticipation is a great way to make an intentional connection with patients, family members, and one another because it helps mitigate worry and anxiety while building trust, reassurance, and peace of mind. Try it, it works!