Patient Safety | How I control my safety when visiting a physician

Written By: Amal Farahat, CPHQ

When we are sick or feel something is not right with our bodies, our first thought is to seek help from our health care provider. We go when we are not at our best, perhaps even at our worst expecting we are in a safe environment and will be taken care of. We can let go and let the experts heal us. In reality, the health care system is set up by humans like us. As all humans, health care providers have good days and bad. They too, have days that go well and feel strong and days that are not so great. We all do our best however, just like us, health care providers are subject to stress, ailments, heartaches, bullying, and the need for good food and sleep. To insure, as much as possible, all patients within a health care system are truly in a safe and optimal healing environment, regulatory bodies develop policies, procedures and rights and responsibilities for health care workers as well as patients. For the health care system to run as smoothly and optimal as possible, we all need to carry out our roles and hold one another accountable.

The success or failure of any health care treatment is only as good as the cooperation between all health care providers and the patient. The patient supplies information about his or her symptoms. Each health care provider offers the needed examinations and reports about the patient’s health condition. The patient carries out treatment as per the provider’s instructions. This full cycle is required for the patient’s positive health outcome. Once any of the links within the cycle are missing, the outcome will be lacking as well. It is our responsibility as patients to communicate well with our health care providers.

My Body, My History

As patients, we have a history with our bodies. A history of aches, pains and ailments that only we know. No matter how educated or well informed a health care provider is, they do not know our history or bodies as well as we do. It is up to us to share with our health care providers the information they need to identify the appropriate treatment. The better we know our bodies and are able to explain our symptoms and how we feel with providers, the better chances we have of receiving the care we need. Visiting a physician because of hair loss after a strict four-week diet is not the same as hair loss without any changes to lifestyle. The investigation route and urgency for both cases are not the same. Yet, changes in diet may seem for some a minor detail not deemed worthy to be shared. The more accurate and precisely detailed our medical history is the better chances we have to heal. This includes being honest about our lifestyles, we are not there to impress anyone or get extra sympathy. Keeping a diary may be worth considering as a tracking method for aches and pains and repeating back to the physician.

Communication is a 2-way Street

We are responsible to share our health history with our health care providers, furthermore, we are responsible to ask questions. Questions for clarification purposes to understand everything about our health. We have the right to know who our health care providers are and what their qualifications and specialties are. We have the right to understand what investigative procedures are needed and how they will be carried out and why. We have the right to not only know how to take our medications but also why and for how long. We have the right to know everything relevant to our health care nonetheless it is our responsibility to ask the questions to obtain the information we need. If we are unable, for whatever reason, to understand what is being said, we can ask for an interpreter or someone else to explain again and again in different modalities. It is easy to give others the responsibility of carrying out their roles however it is our health which makes it our responsibility to insure we receive the information in a way we understand.

What we share regarding our health is vital, however, how we share this information is also crucial in our treatment plan. When we are ill and feel pain, we are vulnerable and might become inpatient and aggressive even. People working in health care are aware of this fact and are trained to be as patient and kind as possible. It may seem to the person they are not patient with as a short period however, we must remember, we do not know how long or challenging their shift has been, the type of patients they have already been dealing with or any other stressful life situations they are facing. A female doctor may have attended her clinic while leaving a sick toddler at home with a neighbor. Or a distracted nurse maybe worrying about his hospitalized daughter after a car accident in his home country. It is important to remember we are all dealing with humans. Humans that are subject to fatigue, pride, self-confidence, wounded egos and stress. The kinder and clearer we are in articulating our condition, the more likely the other person is to listen to us. When we feel we are not receiving the attention and care we need despite our efforts, we have the right to request this attention in an assertive, non-aggressive manner. Even raising official complaints can be done in a cooperative and respectful manner.

In some instances, we may need to transfer our medical information and examinations between providers. Some health care facilities may be reluctant to hand over this information to patients. While each country, or regions, may adhere to different laws and regulations, you have the right to receive a copy of your records (the very least in the form of a medical report). By understanding exactly what and why the information is needed and your rights according to local laws patients are able to obtain the appropriate information as early as possible. Keep in mind, if the treating health care provider does not receive the full information on symptoms and ailments, the proposed treatment is not inclusive. If the patient does not follow the instructions or side tracks from it, the treatment is not as effective and the outcome will not be as expected. Therefore, communication is a key component of good quality health care.

Heal Thy Self

In asking clarifying questions and insuring full comprehension of the health care providers’ diagnosis and prognosis of the ailment, patients are able to better follow instructions. Treatment needs are carried out by the patient or companion at times when the treating health care provider is not available. Being able to carry out treatment instructions for optimal recovery requires a full understanding of the treatment requirements and do’s and don’ts. For how can anyone follow a guideline they don’t even know it exists? In terms of knowledge and awareness, another component facilitating communication between patients, their companion and health care providers, is knowledge and understanding of local regulations. The more knowledgeable patients and or companions are about their rights and responsibilities, the better they are able to assert themselves. For instance, a common misconception many have about the rights of female patients in Saudi Arabia is that her male guardian is the one to be informed and take decisions on her behalf. According to the Saudi MOH: “Women aged 18 years and over have the right to accept or refuse to sign medical permission for their own surgical work and do not require consent from their guardian.”. Unfortunately, many are unaware of this right and in doing so lose their right to make informed decisions about their own bodies.

In conclusion, though health care providers are tasked and committed to render optimal health care for their patients according to the services available within the health care facility, patients have the right and responsibility to be a main driver in their own health. Patients may require the assistance of a companion however this person does not strip the patient of his or rights and responsibility. The patient is still responsible to communicate with any health care provider to identify who the person is, their role and qualification. Furthermore, the patient is responsible to ask questions ensuring his or her full comprehension of the presented health condition and treatment requirements. If the patient does not agree with the way the providers are treating her or him or has any objections, he or she has the right to file an official complaint within the facility and externally to the authorities. Even in times of dispute, communication between the patient and or companion and all health care providers should be in an assertive yet respectful manner. For more information about patient rights and responsibilities, the patient should follow up with the health care facility and the local regulating government agency.


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