Listen; You’re the Yellow Piano Man!

Alice tiredSo before I went on vacation, I probably miscommunicated with the resident and medical students about the necessity of ensuring that the psychiatry consultation service mascot, Dr. Jim Amos and Alice with Clive reinvigoratedAlice and her baby Clive, need to be regularly taken to the gift shop for a shot of invigorating helium. Otherwise they end up looking pretty tired. Imagine my concern upon my return…so I fixed it.

Communication is key in just about every human endeavor, especially psychiatry. This is the reason why this year’s theme of the annual meeting of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine is the Art and Science of Communication in Psychosomatic Medicine.

It should go without saying (or should it?) that listening to patients, colleagues, and learners is a critical skill to learn. On the other hand, it’s difficult to master, obviously, judging from how often we make mistakes and hear either what we want to hear or just mishear what somebody said, like hearing “yellow piano man” instead of “you’re the piano man.”

Don’t fret; I heard “yellow piano man” for years–until yesterday when I googled the Billy Joel number.

What a psychiatric consultant says to a patient who has not been told by the primary medical team that psychiatric consultation has been requested often ends up feeling like one has stepped in something. I suppose some consultants try to avoid the aura of stigma by not introducing themselves as psychiatrists…but I suspect that just creates a different set of challenges leading to misunderstandings about why certain questions are being asked. There’s a sense that nobody in the room quite gets it.

And what if patients and local psychiatrists are not communicating with each other and the result is the patient’s hospitalization, where a psychiatric consultant gets involved. An opportunity to enhance the safety, well-being, and healing for the patient can be facilitated by the consultant communicating with the local practitioner. If this doesn’t happen, the failure to take this opportunity is truly unfortunate.

The APM emphasis on the importance of good communication is perfect and promises to highlight its connection to the core competencies of Interpersonal and Communication Skills, Patient Care, Medical Knowledge, Systems-based Practice, Practice-based Learning and Improvement, and Professionalism.

I plan to be in New Orleans in November for the APM meeting. I hope Alice will be OK.