Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Searching for a heart of gold (Musings on Alberta's health system)

Also see Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis blogs 
Updated: 1 Oct. 2014

I decided to write a short blog, one in a series, on Alberta's healthcare system. Canada's health system is one of best in world yet has many problems. I treasure it but don't want to ignore reality.

The blog's title comes from a song by Canada's Neil Young.

Trying to count up all times I've visited Edmonton Emergency Rooms (ERs) in past two years. At least 8 times, driving seniors in their 90s (because they want to go to UAH in Edmonton, across the street, not a far-way hospital that requires $40+ taxi fares), or accompanying them in ambulances.

I've also visited seniors who were admitted to hospitals, or had to attend clinics, dozens of times in past two years. Plus saw doctors for myself or family dozens of times.

Random Impressions

1. Alberta's health professionals are exemplary. Most cope with awful working conditions, are overworked, yet still care, treat patients with understanding and kindness. Truly heroes worth of admiration.

2. A few RNs let it get to them and are overtly surly to patients who have the audacity to ring nursing station buzzers and are hostile to patients and visitors who dare ask questions. I call these RNs angry pitbulls who probably should leave the profession. No doubt they are overworked but it does not excuse bad behaviour.

3. A few health workers seem to have little or no sympathy for the elderly ('bed blockers') and others who belong to any underclass. Is it because physicians and RNs earn good wages, live the good life, have not experienced hard times, and had a privileged childhood with little experience with the down-and-out and human frailty?

4. EMS staff have told me that some colleagues burn out and leave the profession because they cannot relate to the elderly or the homeless.

5. I've overheard young ER nurses and doctors joke negatively about elderly patients. A coping mechanism or they're callous youth? 

6. Physicians seldom listen to patients. They're immediately on office computers accessing results and what patients say is so much background noise.

In the past, doctors used to at least read a patient's chart, stuck in a slot on the outside of the cubicle, before entering. Nowadays, they enter,ask how you are (ignore whatever you say - it's usually not 'Fine' or why the heck are you there?), immediately log-in to computer, scan test results and recent history, while patients sit quietly waiting to be acknowledged as existing.

For routine followup visits, I've had physicians ask me,'How are you? What can I do for you today?' I wanted to reply: 'Your booked this appointment. You tell me.' But instead I generously say, 'I'm here for a routine follow-up for ...', which lets them off the hook.

7. Sometimes as a patient, when doctors begin a canned spiel about what they think is your issue, you feel like shouting, "Shut the f*ck up and listen" but you never do.

I've never heard a physician ask any of , "Am I going too fast? Do you understand what I'm saying?" From my life as a teacher of adults, it's standard practice to ask learners what there background is and if they know much about "x" so as to determine how much to explain. Because doctors never do the equivalent, patients with a health care background, e.g., medical laboratory technologist, may have to suffer through a hilarious description of a laboratory test.

8. Many patients visit their physicians unprepared, without a list of key questions that need answering or concerns that need to be assuaged. This puts doctors at a disadvantage as too many random concerns dilute a patient's true needs.

9. Some physicians talk too fast, use too many medical terms, and are oblivious to patients as real people struggling to understand. They don't seem to comprehend that lay people will often be focussed on what the doctor said several sentences ago and new information is not being heard, let alone processed.

Communication is not simple. Between SENDER---> (encodes MESSAGE) and RECEIVER (decodes message to obtain meaning) much background NOISE can interfere, not the least of which are the sender's language and speed of talking and the receiver's apprehension and fear.

10. What's taught in medical schools about patient-centred care is so much bullsh*t. Once physicians set up practice, it's all about processing patients on an assembly line for 'fee for service'.

Patients can't even get long-standing prescriptions for lifelong conditions renewed without visiting doctors. Pharmacies try their best to help patients but it's strictly ka-ching, ka-ching for doctors to make their practice viable (salary, overhead costs of maintaining an office and staff, etc.)

11. I've observed senior doctors humiliate student physicians (interns, residents). It's a widespread problem, one of medicine's dirty little secrets.

12. Onus is on patients to come with list of key concerns and press physicians for answers. Few can do this, especially the elderly. Often old folks meander all over the place instead of clearly stating their serious health issues.

Meanwhile MD and RN eyes glaze over and they begin to use terms like 'dearie' and 'sweetie'.

And some doctors don't really see oldsters as patients, more as inconveniences they cannot help. No one wants to feel powerless, least of all physicians with god-complexes.

More to come...
Hope you enjoy this 1972 ditty by Canada's Neil Young.
As always the views are mine alone and comments are most welcome. 

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