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The communication gap between the medical field and the general population can lead to devastating consequences.
Pediatric emergency medicine in particular faces many challenges as patients are often too young and inexperienced to advocate for themselves. Along with this, healthcare practitioners do not always know the most effective ways to interact with the young patients and their guardians. Many of these problems can be traced back to the history of pediatric medicine, primarily because the idea of specialized emergency care for children is relatively recent. The field of emergency medicine developed rapidly in the 1960s, but it was focused on adult care despite the fact that adults and children can have very different responses to some treatments. It wasn’t until the 1980s that there was more work done to develop emergency care tailored to children’s needs. Even today there is a huge disparity in pediatric outcomes across the country; In the case of severe emergency or illness. Dr. Elizabeth Weinstein, a pediatrician specializing in emergency medicine, states that for “hospitals that are considered the most ready, children have a four-fold better survival rate… than hospitals in the lowest quartile of readiness”.
Dr. Weinstein has spent the past 12 years improving pediatric patient care across the state of Indiana directly through her Emergency Medicine for Children State Partnership Grant and through pediatric readiness. She has been collaborating with the Indianapolis Patient Safety Collation, a group of five major hospital networks in the state of Indiana, to ensure that all hospitals have the ability to treat children’s severe illnesses or the ability to stabilize children and send them to a specialized center to try and close the gap between hospitals prepared for children’s care and those lagging behind. Dr. Weinstein is also dedicated to improving healthcare communication to better improve patient outcomes.
Dr. Weinstein saw the consequences of a communication gap firsthand when she treated a teenage boy for a rare—and at the time—controversial condition. The boy was the captain of his football team and it was scouting season. When he was diagnosed with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit with another player he decided not to take a break from football, against the advice of his doctor. Several days later after suffering a second hit to the head at practice, he suffered a seizure and was taken to the emergency room, where he slipped into a coma and was treated by Dr. Weinstein.
His second concussion had led to Second Impact Syndrome, a rare but severe and potentially deadly neurological condition that can occur in children who receive two concussions in close succession to each other. After a slow recovery and a total of 98 days in the hospital, the boy was eventually discharged and was able to return to his family where he regained some verbal and motor skills. The boy’s family went on to advocate for more awareness of concussion’s impacts, knowledge that they had lacked when they allowed their son to continue playing football after his first concussion.
There are moments where what we say in healthcare can be life-changing in a lot of different ways.Dr. Elizabeth Weinstein
This case led Dr. Weinstein to realize that “there are moments where what we say in healthcare can be life-changing in a lot of different ways.” Moments which seem routine to a clinician can have a massive effect on what decisions a patient makes. It wasn’t until she attended a conference and heard about the Allen Alda Center for Communicating Science and the affiliate program at IU that she realized she could combat this miscommunication and misinformation on a larger scale.
Since then, Dr. Weinstein has worked to close the communication gap between the medical field and the general public in a variety of ways. Recently, she has helped to develop a curriculum for medical residents that uses applied improvisational techniques to teach the residents how to interact with patient families. Improvisation is a necessary skill in the medical field, especially one that can be as hectic as emergency medicine. Physicians need to be able to communicate with patients and build relationships quickly and instinctively. She hopes this curriculum will empower physicians to more effectively inform people of medical information so that the patient or patient family members will be able to advocate for themselves or for a loved one.
As an emergency physician who has spent much of her career trying to close gaps whether they are between patients and physicians or between the pediatric readiness of hospitals across the state, Dr. Weinstein has devoted her life to making meaningful contributions to children’s emergency care even through difficult times.
Julia Grace Reinke is a graduate student at the Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis, IN. She is studying immune evasion and survival pathways of multiple myeloma. She has an interest in communicating science with the public and understanding where the gaps in communication between the general public and scientists arise and how to bridge that gap. She can be reached at email@example.com.