Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Speak Up: It’s Good for Your Health!

Speak Up: It’s Good for Your Health!

Call Center Director

My mother was recently hospitalized. As is typical for a woman of 85 years, her problems were not limited to one medical specialty. During this experience, I learned that it's critical in today's health system to be aware of everything that is going on, and to raise your voice when things seem out of sync. It's ok to ask questions. It's dangerous not to.


My mother went to the emergency room of a local hospital three times. She was admitted overnight the first two times and was finally diagnosed and admitted for care on the third visit. While in the hospital, a specialist was overseeing her care, but we had to reach out to her primary care doctor to make sure he knew about the admission. During her time in the hospital, she required care from two other specialists and ended up with a surgical procedure by a fourth. She's recovering nicely now, thank heaven.


I learned a few things during this process:

1. Doctors only deal with the symptoms that fall under their expertise. ER doctors treat the immediate critical problem. Infectious disease doctors treat infection. Gastroenterologists treat digestive issues. Cardiologists treat heart and pulmonary issues.Don't assume doctors talk with each other. It's their job to address the issues that apply to them, but they don't always have time to address the whole patient. The specialist in charge of my mother's hospital care wanted to discharge her one week into the third admission. But there was no progress on why she had gotten sick in the first place. She dug in her heels in, spoke up, and said, "I'm not going home until you figure out what is wrong with me. I don't want to come back a fourth time." She called her primary care doctor and he intervened by pulling in other specialists.


My mother had the conviction to demand answers. But for other patients, it's not as easy. That's why the National Patient Safety Foundation launched the Ask Me 3 campaign, a patient education program designed to improve patient-provider communication and encourage patients to ask:What is my main problem? What do I need to do? Why is it important for me to do this?


2. Doctors are pressed for time, and they work fast. I was with my mother when one of the specialists, who had seen her before, asked about her symptoms when she was admitted. She had three admissions, so she started with the first one. He was impatient and cut her off before the whole story could be told. I filled in some details and he responded, "You never told me that." It changed her whole course of treatment. I felt lucky I was there at that time. Don't let someone cut you off. Make sure you say everything you need to say.


3. Don't assume doctors remember anything you told them before. Information gets logged in medical records, but I was surprised how many times my mother was asked to repeat the same information about her symptoms and treatment by people I felt should have known it. Again, don't sit quietly by. Make sure the doctor providing care right now knows what happened yesterday


4. Your primary care doctor won't know anything unless you let him or her know. The hospital-based doctors only contact primary care doctors if you pressure them to do so. If you don't have a doctor to navigate the options for your care, you'll need to do it. Don't be shy.


5. Elderly patients do not always get the same level of care. I'm convinced that my mother would have had more careful attention if she had been 25 years younger with the same symptoms. Family vigilance is critical.


What does all this mean? To me, it means that my mother, my family, and I need to track everything that happens, ask a lot of questions, and make sure care is in sync. It's too easy for one doctor to make a decision that might not be the best decision based on knowledge held by another doctor. I have nothing but respect for the doctors who cared for my mother. But we learned that speaking up rather than stepping back was the only way to make sure her care was appropriate.  

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