The importance of listening

A patient talks about what health care providers need to remember when delivering care

By Andrea Bodie
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kristan Millar’s story is a powerful reminder of why listening is important.

It wasn’t the flu – it was hypotrophic cardiomyopathy. And if she hadn’t listened to her intuition, she wouldn’t have received further testing that eventually resulted in her being the youngest person in her cardiologist’s office.

The road leading to today – where Kristan is healthy and happy and thriving – has been a tough one that included a stroke affected coma and eventually lead to a heart transplant. Sharing her journey with health care providers at First Line Manager’s Day in May 2015, she reminded them of the importance of listening and communicating effectively with the people they care for.

“We all know our own bodies better than any doctor will,” she said. “Trust patients.”

Kindness and understanding – particularly at a time when emotions are running high, fear is likely driving and uncertainty is practically guaranteed – are essential, she says, as answering a common question: what does that mean?

Using words people don’t understand, explaining things in medical terms instead of plain language and focusing only on risks and scary statistics that paint the worst case scenario instead of providing the full picture are themes that emerged from the telling of her story.

“Most people live full, normal lives but did old man cardiology say that? The way you speak to people will determine how they feel about themselves,” she said. “A tone change can make all the difference in the world. You get to see people at their most vulnerable. There is great power in the way you speak to people.”

Define success differently, she requested of health care providers. “Empathy bridges connection, but you need to have vulnerability to have empathy.”