The last two weeks of February 2013 was been filled with pain, worry, anger, exhaustion, and tears. But I am grateful to God that we made it through and that my mother is doing much better and is now home. I cannot go into detail about what happened, but I can tell you that the situation that we have gone through is nothing new – especially for marginalized communities.
There are countless accounts of folks that have been misinformed, misdiagnosed, uninformed, undiagnosed, mistreated, etc. when it comes to their health care. As I journeyed through this experience with my family – which involved a host of emotions, thoughts, reactions, etc. – I couldn’t help but think about how this experience has shaped and refocused my view of health care delivery as public health provider. As the Affordable Health Care Act (side note: can we PLEASE stop calling it “Obamacare”?) continues to progress, I hope and pray that the odd notion of cultural humility is integrated in this process. From our family’s recent experience, I cannot tell you how important that would be.
I am a firm believer that a cure can only be as great as the method in which it is delivered. So, if better health care is delivered through people who have no humility, compassion, or empathy for the clients and colleagues, in the words of my girl Dr. LeConté Dill, the medical industrial complex will persist. If you are not able to understand what I am saying, maybe this analogy will help. The current structure is the equivalent to the cure for cancer being delivered through a rusty needle. Who would take that risk? It is pretty much guaranteed that if you do take that chance, you will be left with a host of other illnesses and issues that you didn’t have before that option was taken.
So after going through this experience with my mom, here are some recommendations that I have for health care providers:
- Have some humility! During this time, I witnessed countless instances of staff not only being dismissive and rude to some patients, but some would treat their staff in the same fashion. To those that exhibited such behavior: How would it feel if the shoe was on the other foot? If someone spoke to you as if you were lesser than a human being? Or refused to acknowledge your existence? Or took credit for something that you did? Behavior like this should not be tolerated, rewarded, or supported.
- Think about what it would be like on the other side: What if you or your loved one were ill? How would you want to be treated? Would you want your provider to ignore your questions or concerns?
- Admit when you are wrong and work to correct it. It should go without explanation that if you do not know the answer, you should not make up one. Or if you don’t know how to do something, you should not make up a remedy. It just makes things so, so much worse. Not only will you compromise the person you are “helping,” but it will also land you in a mess of trouble. Just don’t do it. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know, but I will find out.” It is also important to do exactly that – find out!
- Ask questions: The more questions that you ask, the more information you will receive. This will help you be a better advocate for yourself and your loved ones.
- Know your health history, and own it: This “out of sight, out of mind mentality” has to stop. It only compromises the health and well being of yourself and your loved ones.
- Have some humility! There is the saying, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” I have empathy for the pain and discomfort that some patients experienced, but that does not give these same patients the right to yell commands to a nurse who is doing their best to help you. Saying please and thank you really is not that hard.
These may seem like pretty basic recommendations, but they could be instrumental in sparing so many people from so much heartache and pain. As my mother continues to recover (she is making wonderful progress – thank God!) there is still more that I think about in regards to the health care industry, and my role as not only a public health practitioner, but a consumer as well. Like, is what I’m doing even making a difference? How and where can I do more? The struggle continues – so I better dig in my heels and not waver. A change has gotta come.