How should we understand stress in the emergency department waiting room?

December 9, 2021

Every person arriving into the emergency department is experiencing some level of stress, of course. To explore this issue, and identify some of the problems in a granular way, our director of training, Gerard O’Dea spent an evening sitting in the waiting room of this emergency department in order to understand on a personal level and to experience the type of atmosphere that is created in the the waiting room of this emergency department. 

This is an important component of what we like to do at Dynamis, which is to understand as completely as we can the scenarios in which conflict flash-points arise so that we can better design and tailor a training program to have the best effectiveness for the staff who will go through it.

During discussions with the team, we understood that as with many modern hospital environments, the staff team is multicultural and multi-ethnic, and of course multilingual. Likewise, the patients and visitors coming into our emergency departments come from all over the world.

Not every hospital provides emergency services for free (the UK is rather unique in this regard, still) and our patients will have varying degrees of insurance at different quality levels, and varying ability or ability or desire to pay for the expensive emergency treatment that they may need at the hospital.

It is easy to see that more stress (financial issues, family issues, work issues) is added to a situation where there is already pain, discomfort, worry, fear, and anxiety, sitting in the waiting room of this emergency department. 

“Sitting in that waiting room, it struck me that we have a complex mix of issues there, for example overt crises, which are obvious medical issues that people are suffering from when they’ve hurt a part of their body or are experiencing an acute symptom. They’ve been in an accident. There are obvious stressors in this sense, but also I think we can see that there are covert crises – hidden problems that people bring with them on a social level, on a relational level and on a level where they’re actually fearing for the consequences of them being sick and being in the emergency department.

All of these stresses converge to create a very difficult pressure-filled time for each person sitting in the waiting room. When will I be seen, what cascading issues does that create for me, my household and my work…  We need to be sensitive to these issues, or risk having encounters with people who are already escalating and with whom we unwittingly step on vital points of sensitivity.”

– Gerard O’Dea

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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