We all have sat in the doctor’s office, waiting too long to be seen, and thought of what we really would like to say to the doctor once we finally are called in.
I have spent my career exploring the provider/patient relationship, helping health-care providers run their businesses in a way that respects patients. Now, I am executive director of the Power of the Patient Project, a national initiative based in Cherry Hill. My passion is helping to educate patients about their rights, and what they can do to be full partners in managing their own health.
In the coming months, I will be sharing with Inquirer/Philly.com readers some of what I have learned over the last 35 years as a professor of health-care administration. I’ll cover topics such as what to do when it seems that doctors are giving you the runaround instead of a diagnosis, what a patient support group can do for you, and the 10 essential tools to take to every medical visit.
Today, I’ll start with a story from my time teaching health-care administration students at the Arcadia University School of Global Business.
In 2003, a few years after arriving at Arcadia, I gathered about 14 of my students and we visited 10 medical practices around the Philadelphia area. We observed how long patients were kept in the waiting room, how long the complete visit took, and the overall attitudes of patients after their encounter with the doctor.
The result was a poster that still hangs in the offices of many local practices. It is called “I Am a Patient,” and it captures much of what we want our doctors and other health-care providers to know. It is based on the Patient Bill of Rights, first adopted by the American Hospital Association in 1973 to support effective patient care. Among the highlights:
- Talk to me so I understand: This means talking to patients in everyday language, not medical jargon. It means having an interpreter in the room if we do not understand English – something available at most hospitals, but often not at medical practices.
- Honor my time and my emotions: When we visit a doctor, we are scared and we want the doctor to have some compassion and treat us as a person, not simply as a medical chart on his laptop. We do not like to wait for more than 15 minutes beyond our scheduled appointment time in the waiting room, but if there is a delay, someone should let us know why. Nor do we want to remain alone in the examination room for long periods without any clue as to why it is taking the doctor so long to start the visit.
- What is said here, stays here: Precautions must be taken so that a patient cannot hear anything related to another patient. But this tends to be the most violated right we have as patients. Despite the federal regulations and the forms we all sign, doctors and their support staff typically do not protect our privacy as well as they should. Don’t leave voicemail messages for us unless we have consented to be contacted this way. Patients must be clear to our doctors and their support staff how we wish to have results of diagnostic tests reported to us.
- Need to hear results directly from the physician: Nothing is more stressful to a patient than having to undergo a test and not knowing the results. The doctor should contact the patient on the phone with the news, not by a letter that arrives a week later.
- Please show compassion: As the poster concludes, “Overall, I would like to feel like a guest of your practice, and be treated by you and your staff as if your practice depends on me, because it does.”
Back in January, 14 years after we created that poster, students from the spring 2017 semester helped us start the Power of the Patient Project. We give presentations to patient support groups, in public libraries, at special health and wellness events, and other venues throughout the region. Our website (thepowerofthepatient.org) provides a comprehensive list of resources to get reliable information on medical conditions and treatment options, and we also have a library of video segments featuring prominent physicians from around the region.
I hope to help you become a more informed or more proactive patient. Let’s take that journey together.