The call bell is patients’ lifeline

By | 2016-03-23T20:20:41-04:00 May 17th, 2015|0 Comments

By Sharon Nam Dobbs, MN, RN

At the University Health Network in Toronto where I work, we pride ourselves on providing patient and family-focused care. Two years after becoming a nurse, I had to have an MRI at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

As a nurse, I have often sent patients off for tests — whether they are X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs or CT scans. I have explained to the patients about what these tests do, the types of findings that could occur and have provided assurances that “it will be OK,” yet, I didn’t want to give patients a false sense of assurance. Often, patients are looking for different information than I provided to them. They wanted to know things such as, “Will it hurt?” or “Does doing this test mean I am very ill?”

Now it was my turn to experience what my patients experience.

During an MRI, the patient lies very still on a table that moves into the MRI scanner in an enclosed space. The scanner spins, and generates loud noises. Because I was very nervous about both the enclosed space and the noises from the machine, my doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, which I took before going into the room for my examination. However, the medication didn’t calm my nerves as I lay on the table.

The technician handed me a call bell and told me that if I needed him, I should push the button. When I asked him, “If I push the button, will you come immediately?” he answered, “Yes.”

That one word reassured me like nothing else did. And although my anxiety level remained high as I was moved into the enclosed area of the large, noisy, spinning machine, I did not push the call bell. I was able to relax sufficiently to have the test completed without me trying to jump off the table. But in those moments, I experienced an “aha” moment — an understanding of the connection between the patient and the call bell.

For many patients, hospitals can be scary places. They don’t understand much of the medical or nursing jargon and may misinterpret their treatment plan. For instance, the care plan might be to maintain the patient’s current health status, while the patient might expect their health to be restored.

But one of the constants for patients is the hope that healthcare workers will treat the call bell as a priority. The call bell is not an interruption to nurses’ workloads — it is the lifeline that connects the patient to the nurse. It is the device that the patient uses to say, “I need you.”

The call bell speaks for patients who can’t talk. It connects the immobile or disabled patient to the nursing station. It is the difference between life and death for some patients, and it is the source of relief to a vulnerable person that a nurse is coming to help.

After my MRI, I could no longer tolerate hearing unanswered call bells, nor could I watch others dismiss the bell, without going to see why the patient was calling. My nursing practice has improved, with quicker responses to the call bells, because my patients feel more assured in my confidence, care and level of empathy. I understand what it is to be the patient and I understand the need that motivates the patient to activate the call bell system.

Rapid response to the call bell decreases anxiety levels, eliminates misunderstandings, improves patient and family satisfaction levels and hopefully improves the patient’s outcome. Answer the call bell!

Sharon Nam Dobbs, MN, RN, works in the bariatric clinic at Toronto Western Hospital.

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About the Author:

Sallie Jimenez
Sallie Jimenez is content manager for healthcare for from Relias. She develops and edits content for the blog, which covers industry news and trends in the nursing profession and healthcare. She also develops content for the Digital Editions. She has more than 25 years of healthcare journalism, content marketing and editing experience.

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