att sekhon

“Trying to bond with your patients while wearing a mask, goggles and gloves … is very challenging.”

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Voices of the COVID-19 crisis

“Trying to bond with your patients while wearing a mask, goggles and gloves … is very challenging.”

2 Minute Read

Navdeep Sekhon, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, spoke to TMC News on May 11, 2020, about maintaining a strong bedside manner underneath layers of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Classically, they talk about COVID-19 having fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but a lot of patients come in with atypical symptoms. It could be a 65-year-old female with abdominal pain. You do a CT scan of her belly, which is clear, but part of her chest and her lungs show bilateral ground-glass opacities and she ends up being COVID-19 positive. That’s when I realized we have to be a lot more cautious with all of our patients.

Fortunately, we are all wearing PPE during these encounters, so it’s not that concerning because we’re protected. But anybody could have COVID-19.  Now, everybody who comes to the ER wears a mask, most of the ER staff wears a mask and all these hygiene habits should help make the ER safer for everyone.

However, trying to bond with your patients while wearing a mask, goggles and gloves—and while they’re wearing a mask and having limited facial expressions—is very challenging. I tell my medical students that these patients are scared in the ER  … so spend that extra time to try and make them comfortable. It’s one minute or two. Sit down, talk to them and ask them if they have any questions, ask about their family—something to make this encounter more human. 

Some people are putting pictures of themselves on their face mask or on their chest to try to make it more personal, to humanize themselves for patients. People are trying.

Usually, I just try to sit next to the patient. When they have questions or concerns, I address them and hold their hands if they’re worried. It’s just the simple little things like that. There are a lot of people who think about this as, ‘I want to limit my exposure to the patient. I want to get in and out as fast as I possibly can.’ But you ‘ve also got to realize the patient is scared and do a cost-benefit analysis based on your risk preference.

For most of the patients who come to the ER with COVID-19, we can’t tell them they don’t have COVID-19. We don’t have tests. They’ll come in and we’ll say, ‘You most likely have COVID-19, and you need to stay at home and self-quarantine for 14 days.’ If you have a more personable interaction, the patient is more likely to trust you and follow all of what you’re saying. There is societal value in that. …  But on a more personal level, you want your patient to trust you. When they trust you, they trust the health system now and going forward. In the long-term, it’s good, but it’s about being a good person, ultimately.

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