A Patient’s Perspective: A Typical Medical Encounter

Why am I not astounded at what is expected of me as a patient?

Consider this visit to my dermatologist …

In order to be thorough (and who doesn’t want their physician to be thorough) I was instructed to remove all my clothing (except my underwear) and don a gown (why call it that when it really isn’t). As I moved to do so, I observed a floor to ceiling window facing the park outside. There was a cyclist speeding along the path and a small group of people out for a walk.

I resisted the perverse urge to wave.

Returning to my task, I folded my clothes neatly. Seeing no stool available, I resigned myself to an awkward boosting of myself onto the table via one foot on the chair. And then I resigned to wait, only to realize it was indeed very cool in the room.

At last my dermatologist arrived. As a skin specialist and because this was the first time we had seen one another, she wanted to see my skin … from scalp to toes … and so she did, moving my gown as needed in order to conduct the examination.

That over with, she sat at her computer and began to make notes of her findings, asking me questions. Actually, the first question was where was all of my information? You know … the information my referring physician was supposed to have forwarded to her. Without missing a beat she began to pepper me with questions.

Problem was the information she wanted was on my phone … in my purse … across the room.

Now, I know it wasn’t far, but the table was high enough I couldn’t get down easily, and I know she had already seen me during the examination, and I know I had already made peace with the folks outside, but I hesitated. This was just one too many indignity for one morning.

Was it merely unfortunate there was a window without covering, the room was cold, the table too high, and the gown too un-gown-like?

Was it merely too far-fetched technology has not advanced to the point where a physical examination doesn’t require clothing removal?

Was it merely inconvenient my personal health information had to be repeated, yet again?

It’s ironic that the reason I was at the appointment was less important than what I learned about how I can be treated as a patient and as a human being. I left my appointment feeling I could have been treated not just a patient that must be examined, but as a human being who must be interacted with …

Here’s the thing: As a patient we are stripped of our power, our dignity, our choice, often through no fault of our own other than we require the services of a healthcare professional.

Where is the power, the sense of control, strength, and knowledge?

Where is the dignity, the sense of respect, worth, and esteem?

Where is the choice, the sense of alternate possibilities, options, and outcomes?

I don’t know what new affliction this is; it’s why I’m there to see the physician. I lack the ability to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. However, I do know there is something wrong … so listen when I speak.

I don’t know why you don’t have all my health information already; there seems to be enough people and systems with who I’ve shared  that information. I lack the ability to figure out how to get the information to everyone without having to repeat it each and every time … that is, information that is so basic and yet so difficult for a patient to remember and repeat when we are in pain, scared, and uncomfortable.

I don’t understand why the place I go to get help has to be so uncomfortable,  intimidating, and degrading. I lack the ability to do much about any of this except to say loudly and often that there is a list of areas that could use improvement … warmer room, privacy, adequate “gown”, safe access to examination table, and access to my information, just to name a few.

Consider that, very often, as a patient, I am seen if not at my worst, certainly not my best when I walk through your doors. I am vulnerable. I am asking for help. As a healthcare professional, you have something I need, something I can’t easily get anywhere else … and we both know it.

If I had a choice, you likely wouldn’t see me again.

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