Patient Control

There are times when we all need a little help, but patients in hospitals and assisted living facilities often see the control of their lives erode. Those folks are in danger of believing they will never again be able to take care of themselves, a scary thought often leading to failure to thrive and depression.

For ten years, I worked in a large hospital, first as an x-ray technologist and later as the radiology department head. Here is a prospective from both sides, patient and hospital.

Employees have a schedule. They have a certain number of patient-related activities to perform on their shift and they will be reprimanded or fired if the don’t get them done.

Many x-ray departments never close. CT, MRI’s and PET machines may run day and night. Thus a patient might well be awakened at 4 in the morning for an exam. The regular schedule begins at 6 am. Various tests are performed using x-ray, ultrasound, and nuclear medicine. Some require patients to be NPO (nothing by mouth).Wheelchairs and gurneys are dispatched in order of importance. Emergencies take precedence.

But patients are at the mercy of the schedule. Confined to bed or room, they endure stressful conditions of anxiety and waiting. Perhaps telling patients what time their exam will be would help. Given a margin of error, it would return a modicum of control to the patient? For the x-ray department, a scheduling routine could work. Every patient gets their exam and doctors get the reports in a timely manner.

Patients have the right to know what time they will be visited by their doctor so that relatives or advocates can be present. In the rush of the visit, patients often forget to ask important questions. They may not hear or interpret correctly what the doctor has said. It is vital that someone is present to help the patient understand, thus regaining some control of their treatment plan.

Blood pressure, pulse, and temperature checks are done on patients at all hours of the day and night, frequently at the expense of vital sleep. Patients are awakened in the wee hours to obtain blood samples so that doctors will have results in the morning. In this era of advanced communication technology, there has to be a better system. Giving patients the control to sleep more than in snatches aids recovery as well as mental well-being.

I believe, as do many cultures, that human dignity, respect, and control effects one’s power to heal. Institutional care may be vital to the survival of some but at what cost? In my view, caregivers must be facilitators, not dictators.

Cartoon of a Man in the Hospital clipart




5 Responses to Patient Control

  • Bob Chrisman says:

    When my mother was hospitalized for a hip replacement, she fell under the control of the hospital staff. She recovered nicely and had learned to walk again (at the age of 84). When I arrived for her transfer to a rehabilitation unit, I was told that she would be going home. When I expressed my disbelief that anyone would expect her to walk up one flight of seven stairs, followed by another flight of 20 stairs, followed by another three steps and then another two steps, the social worker looked at me and said, “She didn’t say anything about wanting to go to a rehab facility.”

    That was the first time, but not the last, that I heard stupid things from hospital and nursing home people. My mother would never “ask” for anything, even if she needed it. She expected hospitals, doctors, nurses and aides to take care of her…as was their job. In my mother’s youth she could have expected and received that care, but not today.

    I had laughed at a friend’s effort to make sure that no one she knew was hospitalized without having someone present 24-hours per day. After my experience with my mother, I understood why. No one should be in the hospital without a personal advocate–no one.

  • Theresa says:

    A nurse friend of mine once told me every patient in a hospital needs a patient advocate — someone who will take responsibility to question the doctors and nurses, because the patient is often not in good shape to take responsibility themselves.

    • Beth says:

      An advocate doesn’t always need to be a relative. Sometimes it is better to take someone like your nurse friend who knows the system and knows the right questions to ask.

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