Empowering the patient

Something happened yesterday which has prompted today’s blog topic – patient empowerment – a recurring theme on this blog. Now I know there are plenty of good doctors out there, who carefully listen to their patients and are fully engaged with them, and I don’t wish to come across as a medic-basher, but once again, I found myself in a disturbing doctor/patient situation which has raised my hackles.

I have mentioned before my anger and frustration that my oncologist never discussed with me at the outset of treatment,  the  fertility complications which can be a result of treatment for breast cancer. I felt at the time that my concerns were not listened to and it left me with a lingering distrust of the medical profession – I stress this is my own personal issue, I am happy to know that many of you have a wonderful relationship with your medical carers. I know it is also unfair to tar every doctor with the same brush of mistrust, but yesterday my faith was shaken yet again.

I am currently undergoing fertility treatment – a stressful and anxious time as I am sure you will appreciate (I write about this on another blog – Diary of a Miracle).  Yesterday, we had an appointment at the clinic for a scan to check the progress of the treatment following a course of injectable hormones, prior to scheduling an IUI (intrauterine insemination) procedure. The scan went ok and we had a discussion with the doctor about the next hormone injection that I need to take. She wrote the instructions on a piece of paper, handed it to me and then she got ready to send us on our way, without any mention of the IUI. 

So I asked the question, what about IUI? She flicked back and forth through my chart and said oh, are you down for IUI? I was really disturbed by that. She tore up the paper she had written my earlier instructions on and said forget about that then and I will be back in a minute, I need to consult with someone. We were left sitting stunned. It seems pretty basic that a doctor would read the chart which clearly states that we are scheduled to undergo this treatment!

This brings me around to today’s topic. Shouldn’t we have the right to expect the same amount of customer service from the doctor’s office or hospital as you’d expect from any other business? We are too inclined, especially in this country, to view our doctors as  the ones in charge of our treatment and blithely trust what they tell us to do.  Isn’t it time we stopped blindly following what the doctor says, without question? Now I realise that yesterday’s experience is relatively minor with no damaging consequences, but what if it points to a wider issue of care for the patient? Kate Clay, program director of the Center for Shared Decision Making at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, says today’s unprecedented number of new drugs and high-tech procedures means patients need to take control. “Don’t assume the system is going to work for you. Make it work for you.”  Wise words and one I am taking to heart again. It also reminds me of the need to keep our own medical records – at least then we know precisely what is in our chart. (For more advice on managing your own medical records, click here for a previous blog post).

Have any of you experienced a similar situation as a patient? Do you have any advice you could share on how to become a more empowered patient? I would love to hear from you.

Related Posts:

Fertility concerns of young women with breast cancer