Saturday, June 21, 2008

Your Rights as a Patient

People in the old west didn't have the medical choices we have today. They either survived their ailments or pinned their hopes on the men and women who traveled around in wagons and hawked their wares as life-saving tonics, potions and salves. Of course, most of what they offered were only homemade remedies later proven to have little, if any, medicinal purposes.

Today, we have choices, but we sometimes forget the people we deal with are ONLY human. They may have gone to school to learn a profession, but they still react to personalities. No matter how likable we perceive ourselves to be, we really never know how someone else views us. Your personality may very well determine the type of treatment you receive.

Do you know you have a right to view your chart? I urge everyone to take advantage of that opportunity--know what has been written about you in your medical records. My family knows very well how I can create cancer out of a cold sore. It's not pleasant to be that way, but it's my nature and I don't know how to change it. I'm not a hypochondriac...someone who imagines illnesses, rather I take a little symptom and let fear blow it into something major. I've gotten better as I've aged, but just to give you an example of how your idiosyncrasies can influence your medical treatment, I'm going to share this with you:

Years ago, I found a new doctor I really liked. I felt comfortable with him and thought I could share my true self with him. He was part of a 'group' so when he wasn't available, I saw other members of his team. After going there for several years, I got the distinct feeling that my maladies weren't being taken seriously. I kept getting prescriptions for Xanax and being sent home. Something was definitely not right.

One day, the doctor stepped out of the room and left my chart on the counter. Curiosity prompted me to open in, and written in big letters inside was a word, I can't remember at the moment, but it intimated to anyone reading my chart that my complaints could be easily discounted. I was enraged. I think I've forgotten the word because I was so offended by it. I went home and thought about it and listed the times I'd been to the doctor with legitimate complaints. I wasn't one to go for no reason at all. What had prompted Dr. S to be so insensitive?

It took a lot of guts, but I worked up the courage to approach my doctor and confess that I'd peeked into my file. I explained how disappointed I was in his assessment of me and how I felt it colored my treatment by his colleagues. Actually, I questioned his right to make his own personal feelings about me public knowledge in records that might determine my well-being.

He confessed he'd never thought of it from that perspective and immediately called his nurse to create a new folder for me. It wasn't long after that I changed to another medical group. You can erase words from folders but you can't erase formed perceptions. Whether I react from fear or reality, the symptoms feel the same and are just as overwhelming. It isn't fair of one doctor to make an assessment that can influence the opinion of others who only know me from a stack of papers.

I learned a valuable lesson from this experience. Now, I discuss my abnormal fear of death and illness with my doctor and I don't have to worry that he thinks I'm a nut case. I've found a great group here in TN, and as far as I can tell, they don't think I'm ready for the loony bin. I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy on July 3rd, and I'd be lying if I told you that the fear of colon cancer isn't lurking in the back of my mind. I've always been a mountain out mole-hills kinda gal when it comes to health issues, but it's definitely not by choice. If anyone has tips on how to stop worrying about things over which we have no control, I'm open to learn.

Just make sure there's nothing derogatory written in your records. It may save your life.


Anita Davison said...

Hi Ginger

Our medical system is quite different from yours, we don't have to worry about bills for instance - but the practices seem very similar. Sending patients home after childbirth for one.

Also the 'notes on notes' thing. My sister went to her doctor for a persistent ear infection and was on antibiotics for a year. She thought this excesive and asked for a specialist referral - which she got, but opened the doctor's letter [she's nosy-but hell why not] only to find the doctor said, 'I feel I am wasting your time as this patient is a self obsessed spinster - she was 27 - with nothing better to do that complain about imaginary ailments.
The surgeon she was referred to wouldn't let her go home to fetch her PJs - he admitted her immediately and she was in surgery within four hours - she had a mastoid the size of a golf ball inside her skull. Her symptoms were classic and shouldn't have ben missed. The surgeon assured her he would be making a formal complaint against the GP on my sister's behalf. Litigation against the medical profession is harder in the UK - but this guy was great and mad as hell!

The know the worst bit? My sister's doctor was a single woman!!!

Ginger Simpson said...

Doctors are only human and they are just as apt to make mistakes as anyone. Thank goodness for the surgeon who drew his own conclusion about your sister and her health problem. I seem to have drawn a little fire because I'm fortunate enough to have health insurance. I truly feel for those here in the US who don't. Even my co-pay is staggering when trying to handle it on a fixed income. I do realize how lucky I am. :)


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