Reaching across Communication Barriers to Understand Our Patients - National Commission on Correctional Health Care
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outreached hand 125 e1638398947296Dec 1, 2021

Reaching across Communication Barriers to Understand Our Patients

The way we communicate has changed tremendously as the internet has replaced traditional media like newspapers and TV. Instead of reading an entire article, we skim the first few lines or just the headline and then move on. We opt for snippets and sound bites. And, at least for a lot of young people, Tik Tok rules.

As a result, the way we listen has changed dramatically too. How long do we listen before we either tune out, interrupt, or start planning our response? “I disagree with that. Let me interrupt and get five points ahead.” When we are listening, are we really hearing what is being communicated, or are we putting our own spin on what someone is saying?

The communication situation was bad before the pandemic. Then COVID-19 came along and inserted all sorts of additional hurdles. I don’t care what anyone says: a video call, no matter how great the technology, is not the same as an in-person interaction. During the pandemic, our divisions over ideas have become deeper and more widespread, making even seemingly benign subjects fodder for controversy. We have lost connection to others to such an extent that when someone simply says hello, it’s somewhat startling! One day last week, I was hurrying to get a cup of coffee and someone I don’t know from the neighborhood stopped to say hello. It took me a minute to understand what was going on and I was really taken aback, because that hasn’t been happening in the past two years!

When you think about it, the recent barriers to human connection are what our incarcerated patients have long experienced: prolonged isolation, infrequent and non-direct communication with loved ones, missed family milestones, and hostilities from many of those they do encounter in person.

So as we as struggle to emerge from the pandemic and regain some of the connection we’ve lost, I wanted to use this time in accepting this award to reflect on how we can use the lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic to better understand the obstacles faced by incarcerated individuals and their families. What can we learn from them? What can we take away and try to change now that we’ve all experienced, for just a few months, what they experience for long stretches of time?

We have all been able gradually to do more things in person, like come to this conference, but those who are incarcerated don’t have that opportunity. How can we use this experience, which no one ever wished for, to truly understand and better serve our patients, and to take the fabulous work of NCCHC and all the people in this room, the passion we collectively have for what we do, to better serve our patients?

Only then can we hope to use this powerful tool of communication to further the mission of NCCHC and our own personal passion for impacting the lives to those we serve.

By Deana Johnson, JD, general counsel, Centurion Health, winner of the 2021 B. Jaye Anno Award of Excellence in Communication

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