Advice for health professionals

No-one wants to feel as if they’re on a conveyer belt of patients. A number rather than an individual. Over the years, since my first operation aged 5, 99% of the health professionals I’ve met have been caring and focused on the highest standards of patient care. In several situations, this hasn’t been the case.

Attending appointments can be nerve-wracking. Lying on a bed, either in Accident & Emergency or as an in-patient, is stressful. Here are 6 ways health professionals can improve the patient experience.

1. Always introduce yourself by name and job title if it’s the first time you’re meeting the patient. This is especially important in A & E. If your patient is having an allergic reaction or severe side effects to medication, they’ll feel disorientated and scared. Simply introducing yourself makes a big difference to calm nerves and inspires confidence in your ability to deliver the right treatment.

2. Don’t stand at the end of your patient’s bed and discuss their health as if they’re not there. Unfortunately I’ve come across this practice on more than one occasion. It’s rude and upsetting, whether the patient understands what you’re saying or not.

3. Examine your patient. This sounds obvious but in rare cases I’ve met doctors who’ve taken a medical history but not bothered to perform an actual examination or any tests. I know that health professionals are under enormous time-pressure, particularly in the NHS. However, doing this would a) give a fuller picture of symptoms and b) help monitor progress of the patient’s condition.

4. Remember your patient knows their own body better than you do. If they are coming back time and again regarding the same issue, there’s a good chance that there’s an underlying medical problem. For example, I made five visits to my doctor before being referred for a chest CT and having bronchiectasis diagnosed. Another time, I was convinced something was up with my ribs. Sure enough, several visits to the GP and an ultrasound later, it turned out that I had two tears in a rib on the left-hand side.

5. Always explain what’s happening, why, and how long drugs should be taken (even those that need to be taken ‘for life’). This is crucial and applies whether in an A & E, in-patient or appointment context. Two years ago, while having a severe allergic reaction to rheumatoid disease medication (broncho-spasms and hallucinations), I was left alone in an A & E cubicle, terrified. I thought I was dying. Looking back, if someone had explained that I was having a reaction to the drugs, and that they just had to work their way out of my system, things would have been much better.

6. Use plain English rather than complicated medical terms. So instead of ‘intra-articular injection’, say ‘steroid injection into the joint’. It sounds obvious, but not enough health professionals do it. This makes it much easier for the patient to understand the options available to them, and enables them to make an informed choice. How can patients agree to a procedure or course of treatment when they don’t fully understand what’s involved?

Luckily, most of the time I feel like an individual, rather than a number, when in hospital or visiting the doctor. I’m aware that as a patient I can make the experience easier too – by listening carefully and asking lots of questions to get informed about my treatment. It should be a partnership between patient and consultant. At the same time, is it too much to ask that one day I, and all other patients, will experience brilliant patient care 100% of the time?

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