If we cared more about patients… maybe less would be sick.
This is not a new subject, of course. We’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: there is often no such thing as patient care. Most of us have complained about hospitals, or heard another’s complaints, or complained about someone else’s complaints… but take my word when I say: it’s actually worse than it seems. As a chronic patient, I should have an honorary doctorate in patient care, and lately, I am thinking about speaking out on this subject. And despite this article being my first “soap box”, if you will, my recent learnings about the new Healthcare Clinic Washington DC from Walgreens (and all of it’s many benefits), has only added fuel to the flame.
How are hospitals failing in matters of patient care, you might ask? First, let me regale you with stories as a professional patient, and later, why Walgreens’ latest concept could improve the plight.
1. Matters of Perception: Perhaps the first offense would be the allowance of assumption in diagnostic choices or systematic evaluations. If you read my previous article regarding a hospitalist presuming my recent weight loss was from an eating disorder (after zero conversation to give these claims weight… bad pun intended). My size, appearance, and gender immediately became a factor towards stereotyping my illness prior to real examination and conversation, which is a dangerous game for physicians to play. Although I always appreciate that my medical records describe me as pleasant, funny or even attractive… could I not still be these things, but also a crackhead? (I’m sure “sexy crackhead” is not a good example, but you get my drift). A recent infusion patient told me she started sobbing when reading the words “patient looks older than she really is” on her medical chart… even if it was somewhat true. Mentioning a patients unhealthy size, scent of cigarette smoke, or other signs of harmful habits? This makes perfect sense to me. Commenting on a quaint, small town grandmother’s appearance, beyond her actual somatic status? Somehow, I don’t see the point in such subjectivity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I continue to believe if I were a man [cue Beyonce], an older women, or an overweight person sitting on that hospital bed complaining of sudden weight loss, such a fallacy would never be derived.
2. When People Don’t Like People: If we can encourage medical students and new practitioners to really enjoy people, it would be a good place to start. Recently, an ER doctor did most of his “examination” by standing in the doorway of my room, and barely coming near me. He talked to me from far away, towering above. Later on, he described the status of my throat, ears, and mouth in his notes, which left me shocked and horrified… because he had never looked inside any of them. Fortunately, I have also had amazing physicians who sit near you, talk straight to your face, show empathy, and really validate someone’s awareness of their own body. Is medicine about coddling and holding our hand? No, of course not. But are patients more apt to follow medical advice and strive for wellness if they believe in their doctor? Absolutely. My GI surgeon is so personable, descriptive and patient, that I literally trust everything she says. If I go to an appointment with something “in mind”, and she disagrees? I always accept her word and think “Ok, I’ll do whatever she says.” But why no fight, no argument, no ostrocization? Because she treats me as a peer. Respect breeds respect, and creating teamwork amongst healthcare and the hospital-bound is never a bad thing.
3. Because “Hospitals Aren’t For Resting”: Have you ever heard this phrase? During my last hospital stay, I couldn’t go to bed until my last lung treatment and stomach injection (normally around 11 at night)… was woken up at 3 or 4 in the morning by a respiratory therapist for more treatments and airway clearance… and again by 5 or 6 for “sats” and nursing rounds. Point? You are woken up all night long (and not in the catchy, Lionel Richie kind of way). Perhaps it goes without saying that this can be counterproductive to patient care. In my case, the lungs need a mid-night wake-up-call. But for other patients with less regimented needs or more acute issues? A balance of low lighting (stop turning on the lights!), subtle nursing, and empathy may prove beneficial to truly healing the sick (because again, isn’t that the point?)
4. Please Read The Darn Chart: Professional patients are really good at repeating themselves. I can say my full name and birth-date faster than you can blink an eye, and do so… ad naseum… every time I’m at the hospital. I can tell my “elevator pitch” (what’s wrong with me and why) to every nurse, assistant, doctor, specialist, and onward, until it becomes a near science. But even though no professional is an expert on all people, sometimes the blatant disinterest and unawareness is staggering. For example, if my file very clearly states “deaf”, and a nurse talks to me for almost 30 minutes with her back turned to me, in a dark room, and than becomes upset with me because I missed everything… it’s a little frustrating. What a lot of people don’t realize is this: being a long-term patient means you are also a full-time advocate for yourself and for others, whether you want to be or not. Even worse, it’s when you are feeling your… well, worst. You win some and lose some when it comes to getting the right medical professional, but wouldn’t it be nice if we won more often?
How Walgreens Wants To Change Things: Now that you’ve heard my 4 reasons, it’s a lot easier to explain the benefits of the latest trend in healthcare: easily accessible, nationwide clinics. Obviously, there is enormous benefit to having consistent professionals in your life for unending medical woes (so find a good doc, and saddle up). Yet when I have smaller issues- think, sinus infection, cold, or stomach bug- it’s often too expensive and time consuming to report to the hospital. Medical clinics allow patients to find proactive care without bankrupting themselves or facing some of the problems listed above.
If I had to conclude this in one way, I would say that the voice of the patient needs to be an equally important part of the medical process (especially when training a new generation of healthcare professionals). Science, breakthroughs, chemistry… there would be no medicine without them, but humanity, sociology, and empathy are just as valuable in the world of healing.
Yes, numbers and data mean the world for cures and diagnostics, but words and compassion can be the difference between fighting onward… and giving up.
Health Sound Off: Have YOU ever felt this way? Commiserate with me by sharing the love, or speaking out with the hashtags #HealthcareClinic and #CollectiveBias.