Are we labeling or empowering our patients?

by Shweta Ramkumar

We as a society and humans are conditioned to put everything in boxes and label them. While this may be beneficial in helping us get organised and de-cluttered, we tend to apply the same logic towards fellow humans.  Labeling individuals based on their behaviours, symptoms and attributes is a negative, disempowering action in more ways than one.  It leads to stereotyping, misconception, judgment, lack of acceptance and the victims of labeling tend to internalise these labels into their identities.  Additionally, labelling usually stems out of lack of awareness and tends to be subjective instead of factual.  For example, it is a fact that I am of Indian heritage but assuming that I am obsessed with cricket based on my ethnicity is an inaccurate label on me (I like Cricket but am not obsessed with it). 

In the healthcare space, patients, who are already in a vulnerable, fragile and desperate state, aren’t immune to their share of misinformed and disempowering medical labels either.  It’s not unusual for professionals in this field to out rightly tell a patient “you have or are suffering from XYZ condition or illness”.  While it may appear that they are merely doing their job and giving patients the answers they’re seeking, its impact on the patient depends entirely on how effectively it is communicated and delivered.  In particular, when someone uses “you’re suffering from” when describing symptoms to patients, it can appear as a highly toxic action, which would make them believe as though something is wrong with them, or that they are broken.  It can make them feel hopeless and as though everything is over for them, especially in cases of terminal and mental health conditions.  Patients can feel like they are being labelled through their medical symptoms and subsequently experience shame and stigma around them as they unconsciously make these labels as part of their identity, almost like a permanent imprint or tattoo on their foreheads, brains, minds and consciousness.  The fact also that it comes from authority figures in the healthcare space may actually make them feel worse.

In my most recent Livestream conversation with Coralie Ponsinet, I was horrified to learn how she was labelled in the past as “not being depressed” or “not being allowed to cry” by healthcare professionals based solely on her appearance and intensity of symptoms.  No one deserves to be treated that way, especially the ones who are desperate for answers and are already in an anxious state of mind.  

If we as healthcare professionals state not just facts and present evidence, but also offer patients ongoing reassurance, support, long term treatment strategies to make the most of whatever challenges they have or heal from them, as opposed to falsely promised quick fixes to mask their symptoms, it can be a much more positive experience for patients.  They will feel less alone, can trust the help they are receiving, be able to take charge of their own treatment and develop faith and resilience to improve their situation. By no means am I suggesting we need to sugarcoat what we say or do so in a half-baked, convoluted or confusing manner, but we need to do so in a way that leaves the patient feeling empowered and as though they are in good hands with their treatment.

If you are a non-English speaking healthcare professional working in a clinical role closely with patients and would like to improve your skills on empowering your patients, schedule a complimentary 30 minute discovery call with me to find out how I can best support you in your journey.

Hi, I'm Shweta

I coach non-native English speaking healthcare professionals how to advance in their career and build better relationships with their patients and colleagues by expressing themselves more articulately and confidently in the English language.

I work closely with healthcare professionals who work with patients regularly. I help them improve their communication skills when interacting with patients and colleagues, teach them how to show up authentically, assertively and articulately in their field of work in order for them to ultimately gain credibility, validation and respect.

If you work in a clinical role in the healthcare industry and would like to learn more about how to better connect and communicate openly with your clients / patients, book a complimentary 30 minute discovery call with me to see how I can best support you.

Shweta Ramkumar - English Language Confidence Coach

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