Emergency Medicine (EM) is a fast-paced, high-stress field that requires medical professionals to work quickly and efficiently to save lives. As a result, we may fall into the trap of dehumanizing the patients in front of us to save time. However, at the same time, it is also important to know how to appropriately separate ourselves from high-acuity patients in order to properly take care of them. In this episode, our hosts, Drew and Andy sit down with our special guest, Chris Colbert, to discuss dehumanization in EM while visiting the EM residents at UCLA-Harborview

What is Dehumanization?

Dehumanization can take many forms, however, in medicine, it often takes the form of doctors and nurses treating patients as mere diagnoses or symptoms rather than individuals with unique needs and experiences. This can lead to a lack of empathy, communication breakdowns, and ultimately, poorer patient outcomes. It can be difficult to maintain a degree of separation, while also remembering to remain empathetic and ensure communication is respectful by using non-judgemental language. That being said, it is incredibly important to keep this in check as dehumanization can lead to negative outcomes for patients and medical professionals alike. 

 What can we do to prevent dehumanizing our patients?

Introduce yourself to the patient:

Seems simple, but you would be surprised how often we jump into “go mode” without introducing ourselves and our role. If it’s appropriate, take a seat and introduce yourself to the other people in the room so that everyone feels involved in the dialogue.

Put yourself in your patient’s shoes:

Take a second to see things from their perspective, considering their fears, concerns, and emotions. This can help you connect with your patient and build trust, resulting in better communication and a more positive outcome. This can also help you to avoid making assumptions that may lead to worse outcomes. 

Connect with your patients on a human level:

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. You can ask them about their life experiences including where they are from, what they do for a living, or even simply complimenting their shoes, etc.  Understanding patients on a personal level is crucial in EM. Patients are more than their medical history; they have unique hopes, fears, and challenges that impact their health and well-being. Taking the time to get to know your patient’s background, values, and support system can help you provide more personalized care and support.

Call out when you are going to be talking shop:

By letting the patient know when you are talking shop, it allows them to understand that your intention is not to talk over them, but that this is a necessary part of providing them the best care. This can help to ease some of the fear and discomfort of not understanding fully what is going on.

Ask if they have any questions before leaving the room:

If you have the capacity at that moment, try to remember to ask them if they have any questions before you leave the room. This will make patients feel more heard and will ultimately save you time by avoiding unnecessary trips back and forth from the room.

Take Homes:
  1. Empathy is key!
  2. Avoid negative non-verbal queues and making assumptions about patients.
  3. Connect with the patient when possible by introducing yourself and answering their questions.
  4. Remember that ultimately, it’s about the patient.

Post by Rick Dasilva

 About Our Guest:

Christopher Colbert, DO​, ​Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine,  Associate Program Director, and Director of Medical Student Education at UIC BrownCoat EM Residency Program

  1. Głębocka A. Stress and Dehumanizing Behaviors of Medical Staff Toward Patients. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019;1133:97-104. doi:10.1007/5584_2018_308 
  2. https://www.excel-medical.com/the-dehumanization-of-patients-in-hospitals/ 
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