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January 19, 2022

Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Empathy

There are specific things in the emergency department that trigger people off. Sometimes they don’t know things. Sometimes they’re afraid of things. They have anxiety, they have worries fears and so on that are all related to their medical issues as they come into the emergency department. 

In designing this training program, we had to review the data from the department’s own Press Gainey system and their complaints log, looking both at the positive comments and the less positive comments that have been made by patients and visitors. Over the previous six months, we then analyzed the chain of encounters that a visitor or a patient coming into the hospital would normally go through and looked at the interactions that they would have with a series of different professionals. 

Further to this, we understand that there are generic triggers that set people off:

  • Being asked to wait for long time
  • not being given information about how long that wait might be
  • not understanding what the process is at the emergency department
  • Not understanding that there is a triage process in effect
  • people who are behind us in the queue may actually be seeing before us

Note:  “Failure to empathise is the basis of most of the unhappy doctor-patient relationships! 

— Harry A. Wilmer, Dept of Psychiatry, Stanford University

Another thing that we need to know about is that there are certain things that set off our emergency department staff. They often feel over pressured, understaffed. They feel misunderstood. They feel ordered-around and disrespected or disregarded. Sometimes they have patients who have high expectations, who throw around their weight (“I know Doctor Jamal, who is a member of the board!”)  and who want it, (everything) to run their own way.

Somewhere in the middle between the patient and visitor triggers and the emergency department staff’s own triggers and the different needs, expectations, and desires of these two groups, we needed to find a way of creating peace and compassion between them.

Dynamis provides a comprehensive conflict management training programme which spans the whole spectrum of encounters in a hospital environment.  In this series of posts, our Director of Training reflects on key ideas in addressing conflict in the hospital.

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Gerard O'Dea is the Director of Training for Dynamis. Training Advisor, Speaker, Author and Expert Witness on Personal Safety, Conflict Management and Physical Interventions, he is the European Advisor for Vistelar Conflict Management, a global programme focussing on the spectrum of human conflict.

Gerard O'Dea

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