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'Get To Know Me' adding another dimension to Critical Care

Linda Duffy
Linda Daffy, Clinical Nurse Manager (CNM3) in Critical Clare, University Hospital Limerick, filling in a 'Get To Know Me' whiteboard in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit.

The ‘Get To Know Me’ project makes use of whiteboard wallcharts for each patient. The charts, on the wall of each isolation booth in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), have spaces where simple details about the patient, including their favourite things, interesting stories, photos and what name they go by, can be filled in by family (when visiting is permitted) or staff, in consultation with the patient (if at all possible), their family or friends.

‘Get To Know Me’ has a kinship with the concept underlying HSE’s national ‘What Matters To You?’ initiative for enhancing compassionate person-centred care in Ireland. The difference is that while ‘What Matters to You?’ charts are completed by patients, ‘Get To Know Me’ involves a collaboration between staff and the patient, whenever possible, but more often between the patient’s loved ones or next of kin, as patients in ICU may be unconscious, sedated or too ill to communicate for long periods of time.

In the highly clinical and technological environment of intensive care, patients are often physically obscured by tubes, wires and monitors, and clinical teams, and the aim of ‘Get To Know Me’ is to ensure that the patient’s personality, preferences and non-clinical needs are not forgotten. Currently, in use in the ICU, the boards are being considered for use in the High Dependency Unit at UHL.

Linda Daffy, Clinical Nurse Manager (CNM3) in Critical Clare at UHL, praised the “human touch” that the Get To Know Me boards provide for healthcare professionals working in the critical care setting.

“In such a high-tech environment as an ICU, it’s easy to lose sight of the person through the life-supportive measures and equipment in place. The higher human factors of psychological, social and spiritual care can be eclipsed and shown less priority. The Get To Know Me boards facilitate a human approach to care—they’re a conversation starter, and they give us healthcare professionals a privileged opportunity to have insights into a person’s life,” Linda said.

The Get To Know Me boards were devised by Ger Crilly, a Clinical Nurse Manager (CNM2) and Clinical Placement Coordinator in UHL. Ger developed the concept for a Quality Improvement Project submission towards the first-year requirements of her Master’s degree in Health Sciences/Intensive Care Nursing.

“The ‘Get To Know Me’ project is important for the care of critically ill patients because it shows that this is a whole person, not just a patient. It’s very much appreciated by loved ones of patients. It helps staff to provide a more holistic model of care in the hi-tech clinical environment of the ICU,” Ger said.

“The science behind it is very simple," she explained. "We don’t want our patients to be seen as the ‘aneurysm in Bed 8’ or the ‘head injury in Bed 9’. We ask families to engage with the initiative, and of course respect if they decline. Through the whiteboards, staff learn a little bit about the person’s likes, dislikes, interests, what’s important to them, what they like to be called, and so on, and they have a sense of who the person is behind the patient.”

“When a person comes into intensive care, it can be difficult to get a sense of who they are, because all the tubes, wires and equipment create a quite impersonal environment. But just by looking at the board, you might see, for example, a photograph of the person in better health, along with little details about their personality, and those insights instantly take you towards a greater sense of who this person is. It is so difficult during the pandemic because families are not here, and so their input in giving us these kinds of insights into the character of the patient makes a significant difference in the quality of care that can be delivered in ICU at this very challenging time,” Ger said.

The project has attracted approval from the wider public on Twitter, who have applauded the “compassionate and thoughtful idea”, praising it for “treating the person, not the illness”, and also for its benefit to families who take comfort that “special traits about their loved ones are known to staff”.

“We’re finding that families often really want to talk to us about their loved ones in hospital, and this is a very constructive way for us to listen and engage with them, and to inform the care we can deliver,” Ger said.

She concluded: “We want the loved ones of our patients to know that the person they love is special to us as well and that we’re truly interested to hear about people before they came to ICU, through the stories and anecdotes they can share. You know, just simple things can make a huge difference. If they have a favourite radio station, we can play it for them; if they like their food a certain way, we can see to it that it will be provided that way. It’s those little things that make such a huge difference.”