It is hard to be a patient – even when you are a doctor

How each of us views the world is largely influenced by our vantage point. This is especially true for organizations and systems. If you are an insider, you’ll likely view things differently than someone on the outside. Because we can get tunnel vision, it is often beneficial for people to experience an opposing perspective.

This was the subject of a recent New York Times article written by a doctor who experienced a patient’s perspective when her teenage daughter needed an appendectomy. The doctor, who also happens to be writing a book about medical errors, noted that when she switched from being a medical provider to the family member of a patient, the once-comfortable hospital environment suddenly began to feel full of hazards.

The author’s position was unique in that she had much more medical knowledge and confidence than most patients and family members do. But, she admitted, she was still uncomfortable “being the squeaky wheel” and asking numerous questions of the physicians and nurses. She could sense the “unspoken annoyance” of the staff as she sought explanations.

If doctors have trouble advocating for themselves when they become patients, the rest of us have an even harder time doing so. Imagine how difficult it is for the average person to get answers when something goes wrong or a mistake is made.

As a patient, you shouldn’t be responsible for ensuring the safety of your own medical care. But you can nonetheless be an advocate for yourself and for those you love. The author encouraged readers to be “polite but persistent” in speaking with hospital staff to make sure their questions get answered and concerns get addressed.

Perhaps the most important time to be persistent is after a bad medical outcome. Doctors and hospitals are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to admitting mistakes or even explaining what went wrong. If you suspect that you or a family member were harmed by a medical error and physicians won’t give you the answers you are seeking, it may be time to discuss your options with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

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