Local Voices

Speed Dating & Healthcare: Why is Trust so Elusive?

I’ve been navigating complex healthcare needs on behalf of my son for more than ten years; speech therapists, occupational therapist, physical therapists, developmental pediatrician, family doctor…trying to be the center hub so all communication can flow. I’ve been our own mini medical home and integrated care team. I’ve been through the hurdles of battling insurance, high turnover with providers, and trying to tell our story in a meaningful way in 15 mins or less. I’ve been speed dating our healthcare teams for ten years! I get it, the system isn’t set up for deep relationship building over time that breeds trust. So how is trust nurtured?

I had an “ah, ha” moment in the middle of one of my son’s annual primary care visits. It had been a hectic morning prepping him for shots and dealing with the meltdowns it triggered. We were running late; I was feeling like a big fat failure as a parent and putting on a happy face so it didn’t show. We checked in and headed back to meet with the nurse.

Now here’s the thing from my perspective, everything is a teaching opportunity for my child, a chance for him to practice the goals he’s working towards. This means that, if I’m doing my job right, I’m going to stop and make sure we know your name, that I encourage you to ask your questions directly to my kid, and that I will help fill in what he cannot answer.

I’m on your team and will recommend that you not ask him if he’s ready to have his blood pressure taken, because he will say no. Instead let him know that now we are going to take your blood pressure. I get it, all this takes more time. However, if you are both working on the relationship, going in with the same expectation that these little things, name, addressing the patient, and including the parent in what’s the best way to approach the process, they instantly create connection and that breeds trust!

This lesson was reinforced that crazy morning in the PCP’s office when, in the aftermath of his shot, my kid was rolling on the floor loudly scripting* to self-soothe, and the doctor looked up from his computer at me and said, “You are doing a great job mom. Tell me how you are taking care of you?”

This wasn’t a counseling session; it was a rare moment when the speed dating clock stopped and two humans saw each other and said Hey we’re in this together. Then the clock started back up and we all kept on going. Life in general and medical appointments in particular can feel like a never-ending speed date, but we have to agree that we are working on a relationship and find moments to stop the clock and be real even if only for a moment.

Summer Sage, BS, MA
Rural Disability Advocate
Patient Voices

*Scripted speech is repeating a word or phrase heard elsewhere, such as from a television program or movie. An autistic person uses the phrase out of context, not as an attempt to communicate. (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/autism)

Summer Sage has decades of advocacy experience on behalf of the disability community in public health and medicine. Summer will speak at GMEC’s annual CME conference Head for the Hills at 1 pm on November 4. Her topic is How to Talk so Patients will Listen, How to Listen so Patients will Talk.

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