Several years ago, some medical schools began to require students take courses in communications. These schools understood that medicine, at its core, is about people. Communicating effectively with patients and families is a core competency for doctors. Without a physician-to-patient connection, good medical care falls between the cracks.
If you’ve been following this site recently you’ve read about emerging best practices in these difficult times, tactics for remote work, maintaining morale and, as Gil Bashe, managing partner and health lead at Finn Partners, wrote, communicating to people's heads and their hearts.
We’d be remiss, though, if we failed in these difficult times to mention the important role medical communications is playing. Working around the clock, doctors and other medical personnel in New York City-area hospitals will be communicating the news that despite all heroic effort, some people will not survive COVID-19.
Owing to the lack of protective equipment, some hospitals are discussing the possibility of invoking universal do not resuscitate (DNR) policies. These internal conversations won't be easy.
Another conversation, between doctors, their patients and families, will explain that long-time, non-coronavirus patients may need to come off ventilators to try to save coronavirus patients who have a better chance of recovery. In many cases this amounts to a death sentence for patients with other pressing medical needs.
Doctors hold life-and-death conversations regularly. It doesn’t make them easier. These talks likely will come at a far more rapid pace.
Lack of Ventilators
Another conversation, one that will start with doctors and eventually be held with patients and families, also centers on the lack of ventilators. This shortage will necessitate difficult conversations about which coronavirus patients should be put on a ventilator and which, due to age, underlying conditions and other factors, should not.
"Triage is never easy...it's always heartbreaking...for the family and their healthcare team," Bashe, a military medic before his PR career, says. That in some cases family won't be allowed to visit patients won't help either.
Communicators outside the medical field are dealing with weighty issues, including how to communicate layoffs, furloughs, outright job cuts and wage reductions. It's vital, though, that we balance our tribulations with subjects medical practitioners may need to discuss.
"It is almost impossible to imagine what our healthcare professionals will face emotionally, once this pandemic has passed," Bashe says.
We wish them, and their patients and families, Godspeed.
This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.