April 10, 2012

An Open Letter to Medical Professionals & Caregivers

Dear Doctors,
Patient Care Technicians,
Laboratory Technicians,
Certified Nurse Assistants,
Hospice Workers,
Emergency Personnel,
Hospital Administrators,
Alternative Medicine Practitioners,
Home Care Specialists,
and related Office Staff & Managers:
Image found here.

On behalf of my fellow patients, thank you for doing your jobs.  Thank you for going through years of additional schooling, periods of shift-work, and becoming nocturnal when necessary.  Thank you for dealing with icky and/or scary things for a living and assuming at least partial responsibility for us when we aren't able to do it for ourselves.  On the whole, we are grateful for you and all you do.

But even the best in your profession can lose their connection to their patients as people, with pride, self-respect, and dignity.  Whether you're new to your role with a freshly printed certificate in hand, haven't had personal experience coping with illness (or seen a loved one do so up-close), or are an experienced leader in the field who's been doing this so long you've begun seeing patients as experiences and not people, it happens.  So you may need to be reminded from time to time.
Image found here.
It's human nature (including both you and me) to complain.  Even when we love what we do, we can't help but gripe about a few things - gossipy coworkers, the dreaded paperwork, mandates from superiors which seem oblivious to the work already on our plates.  And when our jobs require us to interact with people on the "outside", we're going to get frustrated.  As an auditor, I've had my share of client experiences that feed grousing, and I know patients can be just as challenging to you.
Frustration depicted here.

It's true that without patients, you wouldn't have a job.  While that may be reason enough for some professionals to be patient with patients, it's not a good enough reason.  I don't want your consideration because you need my business, I want it because I deserve it and you're trying to sympathize with my experience.  Troll patient conversations on the internet and you'll find many patients who stay with a provider that may not be the most renowned in their field because he or she treats the patient with genuine concern.

I have but one general - and honestly, fairly simple - request of you to help make this relationship work.  Whenever you're frustrated with a patient, trite as it might sound, put yourself in their shoes.  When a patient is fighting about a bill, imagine having to find the money it takes to maintain a basic level of health.  If you find yourself repeatedly prodding a patient to stick with an ongoing plan (diet, testing, whatever), imagine having to revise your entire schedule to fit in such a plan including running errands caring for a family, and meeting the demands of a job & other commitments.  And, based on a real conversation I recently had, if your job requires you to do unglamorous tasks, imagine needing to have them done for you.  Before you complain that you literally have to wipe a patient's butt, imagine having to have someone else wipe your butt for you.

The key here is "have to"; your patients aren't choosing to have their butts wiped, the choice was taken from them.  Against their will, they must have someone else help them in this most basic & private of tasks.  Wouldn't that make you rather cranky?  Doesn't shame often manifest as orneriness?
Not all patients are elderly, as seen here.

A few years ago, I was going through a flare.  Lying in bed, I just wanted to scooch up toward the pillow but felt too weak & achy.  My ever-loving husband came around the bed and started to grab hold beneath my arms, as you would a child begging to be picked up.  I pushed him away and asked what he was doing, and he said "I was just going to move you up in bed.  I do this for my patients all the time".  But I couldn't let him do it.  I was just in my early 20s, totally unprepared - and unwilling - to need someone else to help me move a few inches in my own bed.  Today, I had to deal with a particularly embarrassing issue, as I had managed to injure my tailbone last week.  Over the interceding days, it has developed a bruise & the muscles are quite disturbed.  After 24 hours of unceasing pain, I finally let him apply a topical analgesic to the injury...and I was none to thrilled to have to let him do this.  My poor husband could very easily complain to his friends that he even has to tend to his wife's backside problems...but I have to live with the emotions of needing someone to do this for me.  How would you feel in my shoes?  Would you be able to accept this help with grace & a smile?
Smiling patient who must be getting compassionate help from his spouse found here.

How would you react to a diagnosis of a severe and/or chronic condition?  To being told to change your lifestyle?  To finding an entire portion of your budget must be allocated to known medical expenses (not to mention the indefinite costs that could accompany an unexpected issue)?  To a professional who tells you he or she knows what's best even if you don't understand or agree?  How about to needing to do daily blood tests, or report your diet & habits to a practitioner you've only seen 2 or 3 times before in your life?

These are directives you give your patients all the time, wondering why they find it so hard to follow your simple instructions.  You've had the hard work, after all, of sorting through the symptoms & options to come up with these plans.  Why are we so ungrateful for your hard work & wisdom?

Because our health is the thing in our lives over which we feel the least control and yet the most effect.  We are the ones who have to find a way to implement the plans you create.  We are the ones who have to acknowledge the loss of our own privacy & independence.

In a true provider - patient team, we will appreciate what you can offer to us and you will appreciate the experiences we will face in trying to implement it.  How would you have your caregiver manage your care with you?  Maybe we aren't such dissimilar creatures after all.

21st Century ePatients Everywhere
Some of the coalition of ePatients who drafted the Digital Patient Bill of Rights, shared here.


  1. All I can say at this time is BRAVO ZULU to you for being able to put this info out there. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks for putting into words what a lot of us can't!

  3. Whaou ! I can't believe how you have put in word so true what we could feel.
    I would add one thing: Dear doctor: listen, not just heard us but really listen, please !

  4. This is incredibly touching and accurate. Thank you for writing it!

  5. Awesome letter Jennifer! It's clear that your talent and passion are well-placed, you serve our community admirably my dear girl!



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