As a medical professional, you have to deal with people all the time. One thing that experience has probably taught you is that patients are much easier to help if they are relaxed. Tense, frightened, or angry patients find it harder to engage effectively in discussions about their diagnosis and treatment, pumping adrenalin may affect the way drugs operate, and depressed patients find it harder to persevere with the exercises required by physical therapy. Perhaps the simple act of getting your patients to smile or laugh could help in getting the results you both want.
A Smile a Day
Although there is little hard research to show that happiness can affect the clinical outcome of particular medical conditions, there is little doubt that it provides an environment in which patients find it easier to manage their health requirements.
Plenty of research indicates that having a positive, happy frame of mind can make a difference to a person’s physical well-being. Laughter seems to be particularly helpful in reducing stress and strengthening the immune system. But being sick is rarely something to laugh about, so doctors need to develop the skill of building positive mental processes in their patients despite their current circumstances.
Smiles and Laughter Are Infectious
It is well known that laughter is infectious (listen to “The Laughing Policeman” if in doubt) and so are smiles. You may be feeling stressed and anxious yourself, but the more you can smile and laugh (appropriately!) the better your patients are likely to feel.
Interestingly, just as when we are happy we smile more, it seems that the opposite works as well, and the physical act of smiling can produce a mental effect of feeling happier. Patients who can be encouraged to exercise their smile muscles are likely to see some benefit from just doing that.
Helping patients to smile and feel better is not just the responsibility of the doctor in charge or the ward’s joker. It requires the effort of the whole professional team, including nurses, paramedics, and orderlies. Because it helps to have a common approach, it pays to undertake training together as a team. This is an important part of communication in patient care which is central to the work of the Language of Caring organization, which you can visit online at LanguageofCaring.com.
Don’t forget that the location is also a part of your team. If your rooms are brightly decorated and kept well maintained it will boost morale. Nice pictures and the provision of reading and writing/drawing materials, as well as soothing music, all create a positive mood.
There are a number of habits that you can introduce into your daily contact with patients to help them feel more inclined to smile.
- Be punctual. Keeping patients waiting, especially if they have reason to worry, will build up a tension which you will have to work twice as hard to defuse.
- Be friendly. It sounds obvious, but when under pressure it is hard to maintain a relaxed demeanor. Keeping a professional detachment is important, but that does not mean you can ignore the normal social niceties of caring.
- Nobody wants to think that their doctor is not taking their condition seriously. There is a right time and a wrong time for levity. Seeing things from your patient’s point of view is essential to getting it right.
- Pay compliments. Everybody responds to a compliment. Professional objectivity is important, and you don’t want to come across as flattering, but when progress has been made ensure that your patients understand that they can take credit for it.
- Show an interest. Doctors are often accused of treating patients as just a collection of symptoms. Make the effort to become genuinely interested in your patients as people with a full life. Talking about the things that energize them will make them smile, so encourage them to do so.
- Prescribe sunlight. Natural daylight is an important element in the maintenance of physical and mental health. Among other things, it increases the production of serotonin in the brain, an important requirement for feeling positive. Finding opportunities for patients to go outside will play a significant part in their recovery.
Sharing the Smile
Patients in wards where the staff is happy, smiling, and positive will nearly always report a better hospital experience than those who find their carers to be stressed, frustrated and impatient. A positive atmosphere has an important part to play in good treatment outcomes.
Taylor Moran is a healthcare worker who is constantly on the lookout for the latest tools and news. He loves to share whatever he finds on a number of career and training blogs.