Monday, June 30, 2008


MITSS Support Team Member and Doctoral Student in Psychology, Erin O'Donnell, shares some reflections regarding her godson's hospitalization. Erin chronicles a very common problem with seemingly routine healthcare communication -- one that needs to be addressed in our quest for true patient-centered care:

On Wednesday morning, my 4 month old godson received a heart transplant in another state. Naturally, this is a big moment and gift beyond words. There is so much that can be said about the magic and miracle of organ donation; the amazing donor families, the science and the great treatment teams. However, I would like to comment on the something else.

Today, my friend, my godson’s mom, called me and said, “People say stupid things sometimes.” She went on to tell me about how the person she thinks was the anesthesiologist (the doctor didn’t adequately identify her role) introduced her name to my friend when entering her son’s room in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. The doctor then began talking to the other surgeon in the room as if my friend, the mother, were not in the room. This conversation included saying, “Most transplant babies are off the ventilator after 2 days.” Everyone in the room knew that this was 4 days after the transplant. It was an insensitive comment to make in front of the mother in that manner. The part that my friend found most rude was that the comment could wait until they left the room, since it was information all parties present already knew. When I expressed my irritation with the fact that the treatment team was talking as if she weren’t in the room, instead of integrating her into the team, my friend said that such discussions happen ALL THE TIME! How many times in our lives do people talk about us or our loved ones in front of us and pretend as if we don’t exist in the room? Is this a strange phenomenon that has become commonplace in the healthcare setting? How should a patient or family member confront such behavior without being seen as a problem patient? How did this kind of behavior originate in the first place? I wonder if it started as some sort of communication shortcut.

I do not believe either of the providers in the room were intentionally insensitive nor do I believe that they are callous people. This is a more widespread problem. It seems there are great barriers to overcome when discussing the importance of integrating the patient and family in their own treatment decisions, particularly when there are still providers that “forget” that they even exist at all.

Erin O'Donnell
MITSS Support Team Member


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