Thursday, September 12, 2013

Patients' Rights: The Right to be treated with Respect and Dignity

An advocate’s first priority is to alleviate the patient’s suffering andto help them cope with their illnesses
A patient advocate understands that his client is not a laboratory rat. A patient’s right to compassion and kindness from every hospital staff member is undisputed. Additionally, a patient also has the right to voice grievances and complaints and have those redressed promptly. If a patient for some reason can’t do this himself, he can always seek help from the advocate.

Healthcare professionals are intimately involved with every aspect of life, right from birth to death. It is the only profession, where no matter what is going on in their personal life, their first priority must be their patient - and as a patient advocate your task is to remind them that their patients come first. They are blessed to be granted such a huge privilege, which is why it is alarming to hear of horror stories about the utterly shabby way in which some doctors treat their patients. What gives them the right to undermine the dignity of a patient?

Insensitivity to another’s pain might explain why the rights of respectful treatment and autonomy are being undermined with impunity by today’s health practitioners. Constant exposure to pain and suffering sometimes de-humanizes doctors and nurses - especially when they are overworked, stressed and burnt out. Respect for the patient should be reflected in every staff member’s action, word and behavior. “Putting Patients First” cannot just be an empty platitude that hospitals print as a mission statement on their websites. The medical staff needs to be specially trained to act with empathy, so they are able to show compassion to patients at all times, even in the most provocative and stress-inducing situations.
Let me illustrate this with the case of an elderly man (78), who has a brain stroke and is left with his right side paralysed. He is admitted into a government hospital, where the staff is so overworked or time-strapped, they have little time to indulge a “senile, old man.” They don’t understand that the patient is scared to death about the long-term implications of his immobility, and why he demands so much attention from his attendants.
So once, when the patient has the urge to urinate in the middle of the night, he rings the bell for the ward boy, who assumes that the patient is indulging in one of his tantrums, and decides not to show up. After waiting for a few minutes, the patient gets impatient and tries to rise from the bed unaided. He loses his balance, falls off the bed and ends up fracturing his hip bone. Fractures are very common in patients of his age, but the untrained paramedic did not see this coming, eventually leading to an accident that could well have been avoided. Even worse, the fact that it was the ward boy’s tardiness that led to the fracture was hushed up, and the family members remained clueless as to why this complication had occurred. The moral of the story is that even when a patient is unreasonably demanding, the nursing staff has to be patient and understanding.
Modern medicine’s emphasis on the technological and pharmacological treatment of symptoms overlooks the fact that recovery from disease and trauma requires healing on all levels: emotional, social, and spiritual. The outcome of a clinical intervention also depends on the manner in which it is provided - and the doctor’s personality is often as important as his technical skill. For example, some patients may be more comfortable receiving individual counseling, while others (e.g. breast cancer survivors) may benefit more from group support, where they are able to share their experiences with each other. These are carefully considered decisions that only an empathetic doctor or advocate would be able to take on the patient’s behalf.

It is an advocate’s responsibility to ensure that the care that the patient receives meets with the accepted standards of medical ethics, and that the patient’s dignity is respected. If this is breached, it’s her responsibility to report the matter to the hospital authorities, and have it addressed to the patient’s complete satisfaction.

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