"Hold My Elbow:" How Stories Have Staying Power

June 7, 2017 Samantha Relich

Stories stay with us.

Paula Tohm and Jason Klainchar are from different healthcare organizations. Tohm is a registered nurse and Client Relations and Experience Officer at Baycrest. Klainchar is the Regional Director of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

At RL Palooza 2017 they gave different presentations, but both shared a common theme: stories have a lasting impact.

Seclusion and Restraint Events at Winnipeg Regional Health Authority 

In his presentation, Klainchar shared the story of “Lenny”, a patient who Klainchar met almost 15 years ago at the start of his career. “Lenny” was placed in seclusion for 7 days following a series of escalated events. Looking back, says Klainchar, the situation could have probably been handled differently.  

This story has stuck with Klainchar and has impacted the work his team at the WRHA is doing to reduce the frequency and duration of seclusion events, by leveraging reporting data to drive behavioral change. “Reporting starts to shift the culture a bit,” says Klainchar. He says that while seclusion can obviously be very distressing for patients, “it’s stressful for staff too, it’s very unpredictable.”

Some tips from Klainchar’s presentation include:

  • Don’t underestimate the value of lived experience. Bringing in a peer who can connect on that level can “speak volumes.”
  • Consider these Six Core Strategies from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors:
    • Leadership Towards Organizational Change
    • Using Data to Inform Practice
    • Workforce Development
    • Use of Seclusion/Restraint Reduction Tools
    • Consumer Roles in Inpatient Setting
    • Debriefing Techniques

The Art of the Tale: The Use of Storytelling to Share Feedback, Concerns and Risk Incidents 

Paula Tohm’s presentation had stories at the heart and center.

When Tohm was 21, she underwent a surgical procedure on her arm. Because of an adverse reaction to general anesthetics, the surgery was performed with only a local anesthetic, meaning that Tohm was awake for the procedure. Understandably, she was frightened.

Before the surgery started, she asked the nurse if she would hold her hand while the surgeons got started.

The nurse replied, “You’re not a child,” and turned away.

The surgeon stepped in. “Hold my elbow,” he said.

Now a registered nurse and Client Relations and Experience Officer at Baycrest, Tohm says she can never know how or if that moment impacted the nurse and surgeon – but it has stayed with her for the rest of her life. It’s one of the reasons she believes stories have such powerful potential when it comes to communicating in healthcare.

Some tips on storytelling from Tohm’s presentation include:

  • Communication is more than just words. Body language and tone can have a huge impact as well.
  • Always have your key message in mind. Knowing what you want to get across can keep you focused in your communication and make sure you deliver the information patients and families need. 
  • Ask about patients’ and families’ stories. Understanding their context can improve your communication with them.
  • It’s okay to not have the answer. Good communication often leads to questions that you may not have immediate answers to. Remember it’s okay to step away, find the answer and come back. 

Have stories shaped your career in healthcare? Learn about Elizabeth Deacon's journey to becoming a Patient Experience Manager at Ochsner Health System in our on-demand webinar.

 

About the Author

Samantha is part of the marketing team at RL and is passionate about sharing healthcare stories. When she's not typing away, you can find her as far from the city as possible with a book and a kayak.

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