The Future of Healthcare: “Develop a more harmonious workplace through mindful communication” with Lindsay Lapaquette

As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Lindsay Lapaquette. As a Human Behaviour & Interpersonal Communication Specialist and Founder of Collaborative Solutions, Lindsay helps leaders and their teams develop a more harmonious workplace through mindful communication. Lindsay’s work in the field of interpersonal communication has been […]

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As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Lindsay Lapaquette. As a Human Behaviour & Interpersonal Communication Specialist and Founder of Collaborative Solutions, Lindsay helps leaders and their teams develop a more harmonious workplace through mindful communication.

Lindsay’s work in the field of interpersonal communication has been profoundly influenced by her professional background as a former Speech-Language Pathologist, her work with First Nations individuals, who prioritize relationship and connection above all else, and the premature loss of both of her parents, which left her feeling disconnected to both herself and others. Lindsay believes that effective communication and well-being depend on each other to be optimal and brings her expertise in both domains to corporate workshops and consultations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career began as a Speech-Language Pathologist over 15 years ago, during which time I helped clients improve their ability to interact effectively with others. However, two significant life events brought completely unexpected twists to my career.

The first was the birth of our two children, both of whom have neurodevelopmental disabilities that have required significant medical and paramedical care. I suddenly became the client in healthcare meetings, instead of the professional. I was astonished to see how differently I was treated as a mother than when I was the professional in the room. My concerns were brushed off and people no longer gave much credibility to my opinions and suggestions. This was a very eye-opening experience for me. I began to truly understand the struggles my clients had faced in the healthcare system. This firsthand experience has led to advocate for a much more proactive, client-centered, holistic approach to the delivery of services than what is currently in place within the healthcare system.

The other event that has significantly influenced my clinical practice was the loss of my mother and uncle in a motor vehicle accident in 2014, followed by the sudden death of my father in 2016. These were both life-shattering events that left me raw with pain. As I worked through my grief, I realized the extent to which interpersonal communication is impacted by our inability to sit with difficult emotions. Finding people who could truly listen, without trying to fix the situation, was a challenge. This experience brought me to reflect on the parallels between what I was experiencing and how some healthcare professionals communicate with their patients.

For the past 5 years, I have combined what I have learned from these personal experiences with my professional knowledge to provide workshops and consultative advice to the healthcare sector. When healthcare practitioners use mindful communication with both colleagues and clients, a more harmonious workplace results. This ultimately leads to lower rates of staff disengagement and burnout, increased employee retention, and an improved patient experience.

I feel very privileged to be able to be positively influencing the trajectory of development of health care services towards both a more client- and practitioner-centered model, as this is an area of great passion to me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The experiences that I have had speaking and consulting in remote First Nations communities in northern Canada have profoundly impacted my clinical practice in so many ways. One stands out to me in particular. Just prior to my arrival, four men had gone missing during a fishing trip. I became an observer to the community’s efforts to support the families whose loved ones had gone missing and were ultimately either found dead or never recovered.

The entire community literally shut down as everyone’s focus turned to support those who were affected by this tragedy. I have a very poignant memory of sitting in the healthcare clinic, where there were huge lists all over the walls. One list enumerated various ideas of how to help the families. Another outlined the names of all those affected by the tragedy — someone had been specifically assigned to be responsible for checking in regularly on each individual.

This was in stark contrast to my experience within the healthcare system when my own mother and uncle had been killed in a car accident, several years prior. When I mentioned the accident during a healthcare appointment for my son just several days after it occurred, no one even acknowledged my pain. I left feeling deeply hurt and misunderstood.

The community in which the men went missing had a deep understanding of the interdependence between physical and mental well-being. This is an area where our Western medical system is still lagging behind. Their holistic vision leads to the development of the types of services that are needed to support individuals through challenging moments in their life, even in the absence of an immediate medical need. They understand that, in order for individuals to be well, families must be well.

The lessons I have learned from working with First Nations communities have significantly affected my view on how healthcare services should be provided to both provide optimal benefit and to minimize long-term costs.

Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field? (2–3 sentences)

Having been a front-line employee, a consultant to management, as well as a parent whose children have required significant medical services, I have experienced the healthcare system from multiple perspectives. I have consulted extensively regarding both service development and improving staff retention and client-care through mindful communication and am able to simultaneously consider the experience of the healthcare user, front-line practitioner, and management in the services I deliver.

What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have been on the same journey that I bring participants on in my keynotes and workshops, which I think makes me relatable to those who hear me speak. My focus on mindful communication has evolved from my own need to learn these skills, partially to support clients who needed these skills, but really, to help me better manage my own stress levels and challenging interactions within the healthcare sector. So I think that people can relate to me because I have been, and still am, in their shoes.

I am also exceptionally skilled at identifying the subtle factors that influence human behavior and interpersonal communication. My experience consulting, both related to complex healthcare patients, and at the organizational level, has taught me to dig deep to unveil the true root causes of communication challenges, by asking the right questions and progressively peeling away the different layers of the proverbial onion. This approach to communication challenges is more holistic than that of many who work in this field.

Finally, I am also very results-oriented. I don’t want to simply inspire others. I want them to have the tools needed to integrate real change into their everyday lives and workplaces. Although developing relationships with others is very important to me, there is also a big focus on clinical outcome in the work that I do.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?

In my opinion, we cannot talk about improving workplace communication without digging deeper to look at how our communication is impacted by whether we are in a receptive or a reactive state. This is where mindful communication comes in, to help create a more harmonious workplace. My focus on the interplay between effective communication and well-being looks at communication skills from a different angle than many.

When managers and employees have the tools to create conscious and collaborative communication, stress levels decrease within all levels of the organization. People are heard and understood. Employee retention increases and engagement improves. When people are able to regulate their emotions they are less reactive so they communicate without drama. My focus on mindful communication brings the holistic well-being of both the patient and provider to the forefront of healthcare.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have recently decided to expand my speaking and consulting business to provide services across North America. I’m really excited about this new direction, as improving healthcare services is something that I am very passionate about. One major area of focus in this expansion is continuing to provide keynotes and workshops on mindful communication to healthcare leaders and their teams. In my opinion, the more those within the healthcare system can enhance self-awareness of the factors that influence daily communication, the more this improves both our own experience at work, as well as the patient’s experience within the healthcare system. I’m really looking forward to sharing my perspective and experience more globally.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

1. You can’t fix the world and you will burn out if you keep trying.

It took me many stressful years of trying to help everyone, despite massive waiting lists, to learn this lesson. When we aren’t being receptive to our own needs, this deeply impacts our ability to be receptive to our clients’ needs. Resentment flourishes and this becomes palpable in the care we provide to our clients. I wish I had learned earlier to set boundaries and say no when I needed to. This does not make you a bad healthcare professional. In fact, it will make you more compassionate.

2. You are not the expert — the patient is.

As a specialist within our respective fields, we have an immense amount of knowledge to share. But the patient is still truly the expert of their own life. Until we can see our patients as equal partners, we will be in a position where we think we need to tell them what to do. I now believe that what we really need to do is to educate and empower, while simultaneously respecting the decisions that patient make. I wish I had received specific training on how to truly listen to my patients’ concerns before giving advice.

3. If you don’t proactively manage the stress of your job, it will catch up to you in the end.

Working in healthcare is a very stressful job. We often work with vulnerable populations who cannot necessarily access the supports they need to change their situation. Workloads constantly exceed what any human being can accomplish in a day. We see clients who are often in an emotionally vulnerable state and do not necessarily have adequate training on how to deal with this. The weight of this can be very heavy and can lead to compassion fatigue and sometimes even to post-traumatic stress disorder. I wish I had been explicitly taught tools to help me process everything that we are exposed to, instead of having had to seek this out on my own.

4. People are doing the best they can. Your job is to help them figure out what is getting in their way.

I used to judge clients who weren’t following recommendations. I felt they weren’t invested enough in their own well-being. However, as my practice evolved, I started to realize that when I was encountering a barrier with a client, I needed to become inquisitive to find out what was blocking the client, instead of judging them or seeing their challenges as a character flaw. This shift in perspective can make or break a practitioner’s ability to truly help clients. These are lessons that I have learned from Ross Greene’s work on children, but applying his ideas to clients of all ages will make us all better healthcare practitioners.

5. In any moment of distress, turn inwards before blaming another person.

When we are upset with decisions at work, the way a patient has treated us, or something a colleague has said or done, it is easiest to simply blame the other person. We sometimes discharge our negative emotions onto those around us, contributing to what becomes a toxic environment. However, at some point, I realized that I had the power to choose how I responded to strong emotions. I wish I had learned earlier to let go of issues that are not within my control. Looking inwards at my own responses to challenging situations has drastically reduced my frustration levels at work and has left me in a better position to actually resolve ongoing challenges.

Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this studycited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high-income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

1. Only those for whom finances are not an issue can seek care proactively.

Financial struggles dissuade individuals on tight budgets from seeking preventative care, or even consulting as soon as a concern arises. Healthcare consequently becomes reactive instead of proactive. Medical conditions become more complex, leading to more significant health and social impacts for the patient and their family, as well as increased costs. As long as healthcare models require financial contributions from those who cannot afford it, care will remain reactive.

2. Decisions made by insurance companies are made based on a cost risk analysis.

A psychologist I know once complained to me about how her clients’ insurance would approve therapy only when clients were in near-crisis. Once somewhat stabilized, insurance deemed that the clients no longer needed intervention, despite her clinical opinion to the contrary. Unfortunately, as any qualified mental health professional knows, a lack of ongoing care in such situations can significantly contribute to a return to crisis. As long as clinical recommendations made by qualified healthcare professionals are ignored based on cost risk analyses, the well-being of patients will be in jeopardy. In addition, such a system contributes to employee disengagement and burnout, as people feel stuck in a system that does not prioritize their patients’ well-being.

3. Insufficient focus on the social determinants of health.

Social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status, access to education, food insecurity, adverse childhood events, etc. are recognized as primary factors that contribute to health inequity. Until governmental policies and healthcare programs provide adequate social service support, we will continue to experience significant inequities in both healthcare access and health outcomes in marginalized populations.

4. Lack of coordination of care.

A friend of mine was hospitalized several years ago, with a rare condition affecting all of his organs. Many professionals were involved, both within the hospital and elsewhere upon discharge. The various professionals involved in his file did not speak to one another about their observations and concerns. Consequently, it took much longer than it should have for this whole-body condition to be diagnosed. Such gaps in the transfer of information between hospitals, physicians and other healthcare professionals are not uncommon and need to be seriously examined.

You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Healthcare professionals would all receive extensive training on mindful communication and empowerment.

You can have incredible clinical skills, but if your bedside manner is awful, you will regularly do a disservice to your patients. I once sat in a meeting with a woman who was severely berated by her doctor for not having attended a scheduled medical appointment. Had that doctor become inquisitive, instead of judging the patient, he would have learned that she was having panic attacks every time she even thought about the appointment. This would have opened the door to support for her anxiety and her medical condition.

In-depth, ongoing training and mentorship on how to truly listen to clients, respond empathetically and respect patients as equal partners in their medical journey would lead to far fewer missed diagnoses, misdiagnoses, and exasperated patients. Furthermore, these learned skills would also facilitate interactions with colleagues, decreasing work-related tensions.

2. Service delivery and clinical decisions would be made using a bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach.

A few years ago, I was a member of a national working group to improve healthcare services for one particular specialized service. When I suggested that we gather data from the service users, not one of the 20 other people in the working group supported my idea. All felt that their experience working within the healthcare system was adequate to guide service development. This type of approach to healthcare is unacceptable. In order to know how to develop services that will truly meet the needs of healthcare users, data must be gathered from both patients and front-line employees (bottom-up). When management makes unilateral decisions without consulting those affected (top-down), the clinical impact of the decisions may not be noticeable for years to come but are nevertheless significant.

3. Prevention, early identification, and early intervention need to become the focus of healthcare, to move the system out of a reactive state.

The most clinically effective, and cost-efficient manner of administering healthcare is preventing disease in the first place, identifying it its earliest stages and providing intervention as soon as a need is identified. Healthcare needs become more complex to treat, both with respect to time, required specialization and finances, the longer they progress. Barriers to early access, such as finances, or even the practitioner’s ability to truly listen to a patient’s concerns need to be addressed.

4. Improved systems for communication across healthcare practitioners

Developing systems for more coordinated communication, both across practitioners within the same organization, as well as with those across organizations will help healthcare practitioners get to the root of a client’s situation more rapidly. You cannot solve a puzzle when you do not have all of the pieces. Collecting all of the pieces means that you obtain a holistic view of the client’s situation and can determine how multiple factors contribute to a situation. Improved case coordination would ensure that no important puzzle pieces are inadvertently overlooked.

5. Regular training and support would be provided to help healthcare practitioners manage the stress of their jobs and the trauma to which some are exposed.

Protecting the mental health of employees within the healthcare system must also become proactive, rather than reactive. Happy, engaged employees stay in their jobs. For the well-being of healthcare employees and their patients, management must encourage employees to make decisions to support their own well-being.

Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities, and leaders do to help?

Integrating a more proactive, holistic and client-centered philosophy into the healthcare system will take some time. We are talking about a major shift of philosophy in some institutions. This will be a work in progress, but each step forward will be a step towards improved healthcare.

1. Educational training to become a healthcare professional needs to have a much greater focus on how to truly listen to a client, how to respond empathetically and how to support clients in their healthcare journey without judging them.

2. I have heard stories of doctors and nurses who choose to wear diapers so that they do not need to take breaks within the workplace. Medical school needs to seriously examine how training individuals with extreme work ethic impacts staff disengagement, burnout rates, and ultimately, the healthcare user experience, as they interact with overworked, exhausted medical staff.

3. The integration of regular mindfulness programs into the workplace would offer healthcare practitioners a healthy way to deal with their stress and the trauma to which some are exposed. This would consequently improve employee retention, as well as the patient experience within the healthcare system.

4. In order to promote a holistic view of patients, management also needs to view their staff as holistic human beings who have needs outside of the workplace. Management should enforce policies that lead to better work-life balance. In addition, management needs to model such behaviors themselves.

5. Healthcare practitioners need to be allotted time to coordinate care. Regular intersectoral, multidisciplinary meetings can help improve care coordination. The creation of a healthcare case manager (who does not work for the insurance industry) for clients with chronic conditions can ultimately save a lot of time and money.

6. As organizations that currently use a top-down service development approach wish to begin gathering more input from healthcare users and front-line employees, experienced external facilitators can be hired to mediate tensions and help develop a model that addresses the concerns of various players within the healthcare system.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

Many health-care professionals surround themselves with clinical journals, but do not take time to also turn inwards and focus on themselves. In my opinion, some of the best books we can read as healthcare professionals are those that help us to understand ourselves better and encourage us to prioritize our own well-being. This will leave us in a position to better care for others and be able to be emotionally present for our clients.

The books that have had the most impact on both my life and my clinical practice are all of Brené Brown’s books, in which she talks about topics such as vulnerability, empathy, courage, and leadership. Some of my other top recommended reads include Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk. In terms of podcasts, I really enjoy Black Coat White Art, which explores a variety of issues related to healthcare from a compelling yet compassionate angle.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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