Putting a Face on Care: A Reminder of the Power of Connecting

by Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director, Institute for Innovation | May 01, 2015

NPR recently featured artist Mary Beth Heffernan’s innovative solution to make caring for Ebola patients more personal. Seeing healthcare workers in the news in their protective suits, Heffernan was struck by the idea that the garb, though necessary for safety, likely created even more fear and anxiety for patients. She considered what it would be like to not be able to see the face of the person who was caring for her and how alienating that could be. Her idea was simple and effective: to create photos of the healthcare workers smiling faces as disposable stickers that could be applied to their protective suits. She partnered with a group in Sierra Leone to bring the idea to life. They found that it not only made a difference to patients, staff also appreciated the ability to see their co-workers ‘face to face.’

This story is a terrific example of innovation to address a particular need — and reflects broader issues for us to consider. There are so many elements of health care that are frightening and foreign to patients. Many of these processes must take place to protect the patient or ensure high quality care. However, patients need to see our faces through these processes, both literally and figuratively. Patients need to see that there is a person providing care - a person who is present with them, who sees them and who also allows him/herself to be seen. 

To me, the story of the face stickers is a reminder. It reminds us to both work to reduce the fear and anxiety that is created by health care, and to make efforts to remove the more symbolic masks we wear when we are caught up in process rather than in connecting to those we care for.