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Behind every patient is a person with a story

New communication tool designed to help humanize the ICU experience

Toronto, August 8, 2011

By Kate Taylor

Wendy Nixon and her My Story booklet Wendy Nixon's My Story booklet shows a picture of her dog Bridget and says she is most proud of getting four academic degrees in nine years. (Photo: Kate Taylor)

Like many patients in the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, the elderly patient was unable to speak. She was unable to tell her caregivers anything about herself, her likes and dislikes, what she did before she became sick.

But thanks to an innovative nurse-patient communication tool recently adopted by the hospital, her family was able to help nurses and other health-care practitioners know the person behind the patient.

"My Story" is an easy-to-use booklet that aims to humanize the ICU experience for patients and their families. Relatives and close friends are able to fill out personal information about the patient – who they are, what they like, what is important to them – and attach photos and a family tree. The booklet is posted above the patient's bed.

The husband of the elderly woman, a long-time patient in the ICU, said that filling out the form was therapeutic for him and his son. They shared memories as they completed it by his wife's bedside. "We have pictures posted on the My Story booklet, and it makes my wife very happy," says the husband, who asked that the families' names not be used.

"She likes that the nurses can see that she wasn't sick like this her whole life. It is nice for her to know that nurses can read about her. She can't speak, which is frustrating for her, but she wanted to say these things, she wanted to tell her story."

Through the booklet, one of the nurses on the unit realized that her patient enjoyed watching The Price is Right. She quickly adjusted the TV channel and for the first time saw her patient smile.

"The My Story tool supports nurses at St. Michael's in their commitment to patient- and family-centered care," says Ella Ferris, executive vice president and chief nursing executive. "It is a wonderful way for nurses to connect to the person in the hospital bed."

"This tool is part of the hospital's effort to implement the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario's (RNAO) Best Practice Guideline, Establishing Therapeutic Relationships. The hospital is seeking to become an RNAO Best Practice Spotlight Organization by May 2012."

My Story follows patients as they move to different units of the hospital and is used not just by nurses, but by social workers, chaplains, physicians and the entire health-care team.

"The tool helps us build a connection with patients, allowing us to provide a holistic approach to care in a way that has never been possible before," explains Kerry-Anne Caissie and Ruby Gorospe, staff nurses in the MICU who introduced My Story at St. Michael's.

They said the tool helps patients feel closer with the nurses, helping to build trust, and improve patient-care and a family's overall experience in hospital.

Created by St. Jude Medical Centre in Fullerton, Calif., and adapted from Toronto East General Hospital, My Story is used at St. Michael's in the palliative care and trauma neurosurgery units and the medical-surgical and trauma-neurosurgery intensive care units.

"Families have been extremely receptive to My Story," says Caissie, who discovered through the booklet that her patient was a champion bowler. "One hundred per cent of survey respondents agreed that My Story made them feel like the ICU team cared about their loved one as a person, not just a patient," she says, referring to families who were asked to fill out a feedback form.

The My Story booklet asks relatives to list what the patient likes to be called, their hobbies and interests, names of loved ones and pets, their favourite food, music and TV show, their job or career, the things they are most proud of and what makes them happy.