Want to get better more quickly? Here are your responsibilities.
In this post, I will explore the responsibilities of the patient in a healthcare setting with particular emphasis on conditions involving pain. So, what IS your job as a patient?
I can hear you thinking, “What do you mean MY job? I’m paying you to fix me!” Well, that’s not exactly true.
In order to have an optimal outcome or recovery, any and all conditions will require the patient and practitioner to work as a team. In fact, if a patient neglects their responsibilities, outcomes will almost always be poor.
I’ve had a discussion with another osteopath who actually refers to those who see him as “clients” rather than “patients”, as it seems to promote a mentality of partnership. Certainly an interesting point, which I don’t disagree with. I’m just stuck in my ways, so will continue to write “patients” for this post.
Healthcare professionals are trained to examine, diagnose and treat conditions of the body and/or mind. In order to do that, we need the correct information, which brings me to your (the patient’s) first responsibility.
- Please give us accurate and complete information.
When we take your history, we need to know everything. If there is a question enquiring if you’ve previously been in hospital/broken a bone/been in a car accident/had a scan done, please answer it accurately.
Often, patients will omit information about incidents from three years ago as they feel that the information is no longer relevant.
Sometimes patients will not include information about “embarrassing” conditions such as depression, anxiety, reproductive health, gastrointestinal health and so on.
In order to have an optimal outcome or recovery, any and all conditions will require the patient and practitioner to work as a team.
I can’t stress this enough – we need to know correct information. Sometimes, previous surgeries or existing chronic diseases will have an effect on the condition you’re presenting with. We might not provide the best care possible if we’re not privy to this information.
- Please don’t think that we will “fix” you, particularly if you’re in pain.
As mentioned in one of my previous posts, pain is a complicated beast. Pain is dictated by many things, such as emotions, stress, hormones, immune function and tissue damage.
Also, as listed in my “mythbusting” posts, things in your body are not “out”, nor do they need to be “put back in”.
With this in mind, your doctor, health practitioner or osteopath is certainly able to assist with your recovery, but it is a partnership of sorts. Our job is to get to the bottom of why you’re in pain, and then give you the tools to help yourself to manage or alleviate it.
We can assess and diagnose, however our treatment is certainly not the be-all and end-all. The treatment may temporarily alleviate pain or speed up your recovery but, unless you address the reasons the pain came about in the first place, it is likely to return.
When we explain to you the importance of stress management, ergonomic set-ups, exercise, nutrition or coping strategies, it’s important that you try to take this information on board.
Our job is to get to the bottom of why you’re in pain, and then give you the tools to help yourself to manage or alleviate it.
Usually, the patients with the worst outcomes are those who expect that I will “crack” their sore back “into place” or something similar, thus putting the onus on me to fix them. When they don’t miraculously get better after a treatment, often they will become despondent, frustrated and upset, thus further feeding the “pain cycle”, i.e. feeding their brain negative thoughts about their condition such as “I’ll never get better”, and actually worsening their pain.
We can help patients pinpoint the reasons that their pain is present, but we can’t make them change their behaviour (the old “lead a horse to water…” scenario).
That said, it’s incredibly important that we teach you how to help yourself and that you try to implement these strategies. When we are empowered to help ourselves, the emotional information heading into our brains helping to dictate our pain response is changed. We can see a “way out” and we don’t feel powerless – the pain is no longer in charge of us, we are somewhat in charge of our pain.
- Please check your attitude.
Dr Alison Sim, a fellow osteopath and all-round clever person, wrote a post titled “Is our attitude of entitlement causing us pain?” which is certainly an interesting read.
I had a similar experience this week: after heading in for a routine procedure at a public hospital, I was astounded by how friendly and helpful the staff were, especially in such a high-stress, fast-paced environment. Yes, I had to wait for a while, because there were more complicated patients requiring more care before me. However, I reflected on how lucky I was that I hadn’t paid a cent (public hospital) to be there, managed to be admitted, examined, sedated, operated on, examined again and placed in recovery over the course of only six hours. The staff were kind, empathetic, efficient and knowledgeable.
The treatment may temporarily alleviate pain or speed up your recovery but, unless you address the reasons the pain came about in the first place, it is likely to return.
While I was sitting in recovery, eating my plate of mixed triangle sandwiches, I overheard the man next to me loudly complaining about the sandwiches he had been served. His moaning went something like this: “What is this junk!? First they make you sit around for hours in these HIDEOUS gowns, don’t bother to ask if you’d like a blanket, serve you tea that tastes worse than if my 4-year-old granddaughter had made it and top it all off with egg mush on squashed bread!”
While I do not deny that this man may have been feeling scared, vulnerable, undignified and frustrated, his attitude would certainly have been making his experience, and therefore his pain, worse.
We, as healthcare practitioners, understand that it is confronting to have to undress in front of someone. We empathise that the some conditions are inconvenient, cause absence from work and prevent patients from doing what they want to do. It’s our job to help improve those things. But it isn’t our fault that someone is in pain. It isn’t our job to be on the receiving end of rudeness, attitudes of entitlement or abuse.
If patients can take a step back, have a look at what their health team are trying to achieve and help them to do that, then their outcomes are likely to be far better and occur far more quickly. Complaining about the food in a public hospital, treating it like a hotel or forgetting how lucky we are to live in a country where our healthcare system is actually very easy to access isn’t helping anyone. It’s actually just making the patient’s pain worse, slowing their recovery and frustrating the staff who are doing their best to help.
I hope this blog hasn’t come across as a whinge. It’s not meant to be. I love my job and the best part of my job is helping people to get better. I want to see people thrive, to be able to exercise, dance, sit and play with their grandchildren. I want it to happen as quickly as possible. If we can speed things up, improve your recovery, reduce your pain and get all round better outcomes, then why wouldn’t we?
In order to do that, we need an active approach to pain. We need positive attitudes and we need behavioural changes. So, let’s do it. But we have to do it together, partner.
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