Managing the care of two ill, aging parents can be difficult. Losing two parents within six weeks of each other can add a bit of anguish to the turmoil. Much to do. Much to manage. Interesting things to find.

One of my little “finds” was a small spiral notebook my mother used to log activities during my dad’s 13 week hospitalization in 1999. The hospitalization was long and arduous, a consequence of a nasty MRSA infection in his sternal wound post open heart surgery.

My mother was at my dad’s bedside 24/7. She had a bit of time on her hands in between the dialysis, trache care and ventilator management, and at least a dozen surgeries including several wound debridements and skin grafts.  At some point, mom began to log his daily care, detailed questions to ask the many specialists, and for at least one day, rate the service provided by the health care workers. Nothing too fancy – an “X” for “no comment” but a “V. Good” for those providing the best care. Out of the 14 different healthcare workers rated, seven rated as “V.Good”, one was “OK”, one was “Good” and five rated an “X”.

I have thought about her Service Rating Day often as I consider how our patients connect with us and how we can best make a caring and concerned first impression that will carry through the service task.  I do wonder how many patients are mentally or literally keeping score throughout a visit or stay. There are so many contact opportunities for service ratings open to patients in an office visit, a therapy or treatment session or hospital stay.

Research indicates a couple of key points. We have less than a second before our brains begin to create  first impressions. Other research indicates we have up to 6 seconds to create neural resonance with the patient.

My mother is not here to tell me exactly what made the healthcare worker a “V. Good” versus an “X.” As a very compassionate person herself, I would surmise she was looking for the connection, i.e. the voice, the tone, the body posture, the oblique eyebrows, the “ohm” sounds and “concerned gaze” commonly associated with a compassionate connection. Package these with an empathetic response and authentic service language, potentially a healthcare worker could receive the “V.Good.”

Sometimes we forget what six seconds can look and feel like. It can happen. We get caught up in the task at hand and sometimes believe we are connecting with another person even though our eyes and hands are somewhere else. The seconds of compassionate connection can easily dwindle to a fleeting one second.

Even with compassion, practice makes perfect. Take a moment and reset your compassionate connection.

Pleasant memories can evoke facial expressions of a compassionate connection. Think of a pleasant experience – a vacation moment, a hug from your mom, a new kitten or your child’s first smile.

Click on the image to begin the timer.

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Try to maintain the feeling you are experiencing until the timer is done. How do you feel?

Now, think of your contact time with anyone you want or need to be connected to. As we move forward through our day, with our spouse, our children, colleagues and patients, let’s create added awareness to maintain our six seconds to care.

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