Dr. Gary Lee is Valley Medical Center’s director of palliative care, and he’s using a new high-tech wonder in his daily communication with his patients.
Yes, I know it may not look that amazing. But consider: This portable, light-weight camping stool allows Gary to carry it wherever he goes, and when he’s ready to speak with a patient at the bedside, he unfolds it and sits at eye-level with the person in the bed.
Barbara Zahner, Chaplain here at VMC, puts it like this: “the presence of this simple, low cost piece of equipment changes the environment from clinical to remembrances of comforting campfires, cozy conversations, and the grandeur and spirit of nature and creation.”
Gary first read about this in the New England Journal of Medicine, and has found it a real game-changer: The national statistics are that a patient is interrupted by their doctor (at most) 18 seconds into being heard…and in Gary’s practice, that just won’t do.
You see, Gary’s work involves end-of-life discussions with patients and families, where listening is a critical part of delivering care. If done right, the alert reader of this blog will remember that palliative care can not only provide dignity, it can actually extend life.
A simple camping stool! How wonderful to slow that hurry-up dynamic between doctor and patient, letting both feel more present and “in the moment”. Anyone can do this, right Gary? “Well, it requires training”, he told me…and remember, VMC is the teaching hospital for Stanford: “We teach medical students that the most important part of the stethoscope is the six inches between the ear pieces. By the same token, the most important part of the camping stool is – well, you get the idea.”
We’ve all heard it before, and it’s so true: Before they care how much you know, they have to know how much you care.