Many times while on the ward you can see the patient looking for a friendly face as the doctors talk around them, but seldom to them.
Many patients in the public system never work up enough confidence to ask for a translation.
Medicine has moved past the paternalistic model and moved towards patient centred care. We are no longer telling the patients what to, do but giving them enough knowledge so that they can be active in their own care. This is all very idealistic, and we don’t see as much as we should in our Caribbean setting.
Our public system is over worked, under resourced and deals with patients from all backgrounds. It is time consuming to ensure that every single patient understands the total concept of their illness, but it is essential. It is not just to avoid litigation but to maximise patient management, especially when they leave the hospital/ clinic.
When we take the time to explain what is wrong and ensure that they understand, it can cut down complications and other events that will cause them to enter back the system.
While rotating through Community Health, we were asked to share some of our stories where patients did not understand their conditions and this had caused them to reenter the public system.
One student shared the story below:
“A patient was admitted to hospital with hyperglycaemia. When we asked him if he had diabetes he said yes he did. When we questioned his compliance he said yes he took the medication. We probed a little more because if he was taking his medication properly as he said he was, he would not be here in the hospital. After asking a few more questions we realised that he treated his Diabetes as if it were a cold or an infection- something that would eventually go away. He did not understand that Diabetes was a chronic illness.”
While some of you may laugh at this story, this happens all the time where patients say they have ‘a touch of sugar’. It is obvious that no one took the time to explain to that patient that Diabetes was indeed a life long illness.
It is our duty as medical practitioners to explain to our patients what is happening with them. We must take the time out of our day to ensure that they understand. I call also on patients, do not be afraid to ask what is wrong and what is being said. Medical practitioners are usually happy to share the information with you, if you don’t understand we won’t think that you’re stupid and we’ll explain it again.
In the public system, there are many challenges and often it can be overwhelming. No matter the circumstances of our work situation we must always remember that the patient comes first. And under that broad heading, patient education should be bolded!
Samantha C. Johnson.