I Got My Answer From the Nurse
A hospital receptionist concerned about a
lab report on her son came into the lab asking what a "bicarb" level
meant. I printed a page
from Lab Tests Online, a
resource I often use for patients. When
I walked it down the hall to her desk, she was putting down a telephone. "That's OK," she said. "I just got my answer from the ER
She more or less dismissed me with a nod to
place the literature on her desk. Clearly, in her mind I knew less about a lab test than the nurse who
happened to answer the telephone in the emergency room.
Why was a nurse able to answer her question
about a lab test better than the lab?
with patients in more ways and more often than anyone else in the
hospital. They also work with
clinicians, absorbing a provider's unique tone, temperament and
knowledge. And a large part of this is
learning to read patients.
Perhaps, the receptionist wasn't looking
for an explanation of the test result. What she wanted was more practical: a simple, direct statement of what her son's doctor was looking
is the doctor worried about this test? is a completely different question
than What does a bicarb level mean?,
for instance. Answering the former may
soothe a mother's angst; the latter generates jargon. Apparently, the nurse read the need of this
receptionist and answered her question appropriately.
How often do nurses explain lab results to
patients? This may be an opportunity for
the lab to be proactive about nursing education, but we may also take a lesson
in what a patient needs. That human
connection can make all the difference in patient care.