Nurses: 5 Ways to Improve A Brain Injured Patient’s Experience

Whether our brain injury happened 5 years ago or 5 weeks ago, many of us are still coping with our new identity. The first moments at a doctor appointment are with you, who can help set the tone for how well we perceive our experience.  

Many of us have invisible residuals such as a greater effort to accomplish little things that used to come natural. Or remembering names. Or understanding what in the world these 8 new medications we’re taking are supposed to achieve. Here are 5 ways you can improve our experience when we have a doctor visit:

Tip #1: Tell us your name even though we see you a lot — Many of us are too embarrassed to admit that “yes, I see you often, but I’ve forgotten your name.” No need to be explicit, just work your name into the conversation and we’ll recognize what you’re doing. Maybe even write it down on the paper sheet covering the exam table like some waiters do in crayon on the paper “table cloth.”

Tip #2: Acknowledge the gravity of the issue — While we love to see and hear about improvement, many of us are dealing with a cruel, silent illness. We live in a dismissive world of people saying, “Well, you look fine to me.” Or “I forget things all the time, too.” For many, our forgetfulness happened overnight. Acknowledgement of the change as significant and severely frustrating as we have undergone is profoundly welcome and can help set a tone of understanding that makes the appointment more productive and less intimidating. 

Tip #3: Beyond taking vitals, help us think though our appointment — We appreciate the accuracy and importance of taking vitals. Challenge us with what we specifically want out of our visit. “What does success look like at the end of the appointment? Is it simply ensuring the meds are the right ones or right dosage? Or is it understanding more about what happened to the brain?” Ask us … you can play a pivotal role in our recovery without us realizing it when you prime the pump.

Tip #4: Coach us on how best to talk to the doctor — After hearing our list of reasons for the visit, help us prioritize to best use the doctor’s time. Coach us on what to emphasize or de-emphasize based on your interviewing us. Maybe even share a few tips on how best to articulate the information. Every doctor is so different. Some are dry, but quite detail oriented and appreciate all the facts. Some are personable but don’t have the patience for a long list of ailments or residuals. Help us help them through your advanced knowledge of their style.

Tip #5: Give us ideas on what has helped other patients — Yes, HIPAA can be quite burdensome when it comes to privacy, but without naming names, you can tell us what has helped patients with similar issues. If a patient knows that cognitive therapy has helped someone else with the same learning issues post brain injury, then that suddenly becomes an option the patient didn’t have before. Share without fear when using anonymity.

In closing, the Internet is limited in its direction. And doctors are pressed for time. There’s a critical role nurses can play in helping us brain injury survivors find new strategies in handling our residuals or sequella. We may not all request information in this manner, but most are looking for these types of answers. Please help guide us so we can provide the most relevant info to our doctors for the most optimal outcomes. And thank you for the service you provide. I could never do what you do. It’s a gift.

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