February 6, 2022

How Can We Make Families Feel Heard in Healthcare?

By Katie Taylor, CCLS There is an old saying that if you’re not asking questions, you’re not paying attention.  When families enter the hospital they are looking to healthcare professionals for answers. The hope is to always hear, “Ah, yes, I’ve seen that before and I know the exact plan to fix it.” This is […]

By Katie Taylor, CCLS

There is an old saying that if you’re not asking questions, you’re not paying attention. 

When families enter the hospital they are looking to healthcare professionals for answers. The hope is to always hear, “Ah, yes, I’ve seen that before and I know the exact plan to fix it.” This is not the reality for many families.

In order to really understand the issues at hand, we have to be good at asking questions and even better at making families feel heard.

Here are my favorite methods for helping families feel heard in the hospital:

  1. Use affirming statements like, “you know your child best,” and truly mean it.
  2. Confirm their question before answering it, “so you’re telling me that X, Y, Z and your question is ________.” 
  3. Echo their question to the rest of the team in front of the family. “Mom brought up a good point that __________, and I want the whole team to be aware of it.”

Of course, there will be times when you, the professional, know what is best and it may differ from what the parent is saying. Rather than asserting your position as “the professional,” lead with empathy and confidence. “I hear your concern/opinion/question, and I respectfully must disagree. If this were my child I would confidently recommend ________ because of _________.”

Families facing crisis, illness and trauma can have a “fight” response when they are scared. Sometimes this “fight” response looks like questioning and challenging. In reality, these are parents who are doing what they believe is to best for their child. Changing your perspective on parents who challenge your authority, may lead to more open and productive conversations between the team in the future.

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