Can you hear me now?

You can call it selective hearing, being preoccupied or just not interested in listening to somebody when they’re trying to tell you something. In my case, it was also losing my hearing in the frequency range of my wife’s voice. never listenShe would often complain that I never listen to her. She returned one evening from a craft fair or bazaar with a painted block of wood, wrapped with a ribbon, and handed it to me. It had the following inscription:

“My wife says I never listen to her… at least I think that’s what she said.” 

Later I discovered our lack of communication was only partially due to my progressive hearing loss. I say “partially” because I now know I was guilty of not giving her my full attention when she spoke to me. I struggled with my hearing (and listening) until a few years later when I suffered profound loss of hearing in both ears.

Though my total loss of hearing was devastating when it happened, regaining my hearing through the process of receiving a cochlear implant has taught me some very important lessons about the difference between hearing and listening.

Hearing is not the same as listening.

The rehabilitation process of regaining my hearing through the miracle of a cochlear implant was hard work. I would struggle to hear at times, knowing I needed to understand the words being said.

But because I was concentrating so much on hearing the words in a conversation, I found myself lacking in the area of listening to the conversation. My brain was so focused on hearing that I didn’t have time to listen at first. Likewise, if our minds and concentration are focused elsewhere, we’re going to miss most of the conversation.

Using more than just your ears.

Listening is not only hearing what is being said, but what is not being said or only partially being said. There are so many nuances to a conversation that one can’t hear unless they truly engage in listening. Body language, facial expression, verbal and non-verbal messages can only be pick up if one is fully engaged, both hearing and listening.

So now you might be asking yourself “what does this have to do with healthcare?”

Time allotted:  8 minutes per patient.

The New York Times recently published an article referencing a study which confirmed “new doctors are spending less time with patients than ever before.” I’m sure this translates over to many of the physicians who’ve been in practice for a number of years as well. Physicians (and pharmacists for that matter) are being bogged down in paperwork and other tasks not directly associated with patient care.

Pharmacists have been under this pressure for years. Even With OBRA mandating patient counseling on all new prescriptions, most pharmacists find it difficult to  get 30 seconds to counsel a patient at times. And I’m sure that physicians and pharmacists are not the only healthcare professionals who are lacking the time to spend listening to patients.

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting…”
~ Fran Lebowitz

So here’s a few tips that would improve the delivery of healthcare from a listening perspective:

  • Stop talking – let your patients tell their story
  • Get ready to listen – remove distractions (including laptops, etc.)
  • Be patient – put them at ease and let them share their concerns
  • Listen for what’s not being said – listen with your eyes as well
  • Be empathetic – try to understand the patient’s point of view

Unless we put forth the effort to prepare ourselves to listen it probably isn’t going to happen.

No time, no time, no time…

One might argue the case of  this new generation of healthcare practitioners being different than past generations due to time constraints. Circumstances may change over time. But the framework for building good relationships with other people hasn’t changed much, if at all, for centuries.

If we want to improve healthcare we must improve the communication and interaction with patients… many who are more informed and engaged in their health and medical conditions than ever before.

So what happened to the sign?

It still sits on our kitchen windowsill, over 15 years later, as a daily reminder to us all.

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