Foster collaborative relationships

Immediately after the news broke that three doctors died due to COVID-19, people took their frustration to Twitter and were quick to blame patients for their failure to divulge accurate health and travel history. For many, this alleged ’lie’ caused the life of an unsung hero who was at the frontline battling the pandemic.

A patient withholding facts and misleading health workers is no laughing matter. Physicians cannot appropriately diagnose and treat patients unless the latter share information freely. Thus, the feelings of anger, hatred, and frustration felt by many doctors last week were all valid. These feelings make them human after all. But, this is more than a simple case of dishonesty. To directly equate a person’s death to a lie, whether intentional or not, is a bit overstretched. Alternatively, our frustration directs us to question what could have possibly gone wrong between the patient-physician relationship.

Patients also fear for their lives, much like the rest of us in the field of health care. Some patients are intimidated, only to share their whole health history after their first conversation with a health worker.  Truth be told, it is sometimes difficult to share private information to our friends and families. What more to people you barely know? Unfortunately, this is not an excuse for patients to deliberately lie about their health status.

Although motivations for withholding the truth vary from patient to patient, options to address this problem are rooted in one concept: a collaborative patient-health worker relationship. It is important, I suppose, for our patients to feel that we trust them and that they, too, can trust us. Let us allow our patients to freely verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Let us take time to listen to them so that they can put their trust in us.

Conversations with patients are almost always difficult. But given the gravity of what’s at stake, we are encouraged to find ways to expand and make better the existing lines of communication. We are encouraged to find ways to make patients more comfortable to admit embarrassing behaviors, and facts about themselves. Finally, we are encouraged to create a trusting environment embedded in the system to allow and support collaborative relationships between patients and health workers.

The frontline

As a nurse, waking up each day is a struggle knowing that there is a high risk for us to acquire the disease. However, we are constantly reminded of our duty to the people. That it is our duty and responsibility to help those in need, especially the poor, weak, and vulnerable.

Times like this make us realize that effective communication is key. Sadly, the field of health has failed to do it well in many instances. Today, more than ever, I fervently ask our leaders to first show TRANSPARENCY. Make things clear for us. Make us understand how things will be managed, coordinated, and disseminated. Make us feel that you are on top of this and that processes are as clear as they can be.

Second, I ask for CONSISTENCY. We are tired of hearing conflicting statements, especially those from the higher ranks. Such conflicting statements create confusion which in turn causes panic. Let there be a single message from a single source.

Finally, I ask for INTEGRITY. Let us not fool each other. Again, kabaro mo na. Sana hindi ka na isahan pa. Tayo-tayo dapat ang nagtutulungan. Hindi dapat nag-gugulangan. Let us be honest to each other so we can all work well together. After all, we all aim for one goal – the end of this crisis.

The coming weeks will show how resilient and responsive our health care system is. The circumstances will test how our current systems will adapt and change according to the pressing needs of the people. Our experiences during this pandemic will surely change how we will implement the UHC law in a bigger scale in the following years.

Please pray for everyone, especially those in the frontline. It is a scary, scary world and we have nobody to save us but ourselves. Ingat!

DISCLAIMER: There is no way this post pertains to a particular individual, hospital, or organization. Before you try to twist whatever I said in this post and send complaints, please clarify them first with me. Send me a message. It’s free.

Nudging in health care

We saw a dramatic change in people’s behavior brought about by information (and misinformation) regarding the worldwide spread of COVID-19. People began clamoring for more health information and others started wearing surgical face masks to protect themselves. Following advice from the Department of Health, several organizations cancelled their scheduled conferences and conventions this year.

What surprised me, however, is the fact that many food, retail, and service companies started providing hand sanitizers not only to their employees but also to their customers. Schools, hospitals, and shopping malls did the same, and even placed posters at entry and exit points to inform the public on infection control measures that should be observed within their premises. The placement of posters, the availability of and accessibility to alcohol or hand sanitizers created a positive reinforcement that influenced individual and group decision-making leading to a change in behavior. In behavioral science, this is best explained by the “Nudge Theory”.

The reaction of the Filipino community to this actual health threat is a manifestation of how the theory works. Based on observation, some people who saw hand sanitizers and alcohols on counter tops actually rubbed some on their hands. To an extent, the mere presence of these alcohol-containing preparations ‘nudged’ people to make the right decision which is to practice hand hygiene. Studies in other countries such as the UK have been successful in providing empirical evidence to support the use of nudging to influence behavior in health care settings. Such practice, however, has not been extensively explored in the Philippines.

While we focus on containing the local transmission of COVID-19 in Metro Manila for now, health care professionals and policy makers can take this opportunity to review existing policies on hand hygiene, infection control, and even outbreaks. We have been accustomed to using the rational choice model to create policies influencing people’s behavior. Using this model, we assume that humans are rational beings and given adequate information, they will rationally act on their own self-interest. Sadly, this approach does not work well in real life. Fortunately, the nudge theory, introduced by Nobel-prize winner Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein, provides policy-makers with another approach to influencing behavior. This theory suggests that we cannot stop people from being irrational because much of instant decision-making is influenced by context and environment. We can, however, seek to influence decision-making impulses to produce outcomes that are beneficial both at the individual and societal levels.

At the moment, we are pleased and thankful for the initiatives of private companies to educate their employees and customers on proper hand hygiene, and providing the necessary facilities to practice hand hygiene procedures. In the future, we should hope to see how the government will use nudging techniques to influence people’s behavior. As the theory can be applied even in realms outside health, nudging presents a low-cost and effective policy option that can perhaps complement or replace traditional regulation with nudges to influence people’s everyday choices without restricting their freedom of choice, and imposing penal charges or taxation.