Patient Responsibility

I live in Ebola central. Being in Dallas, I am overloaded both with local news (papers and broadcasts) as well as national news on the subject. The hospital involved, Texas Health Resources – Presbyterian, is “my” hospital and the facility where we took my husband during his recent health emergency. Had my husband’s situation occurred a few days later, we would have been in the emergency room at the same time as patient zero. All of my doctors (and I mean all 11 of them plus my labs) are located in the professional buildings associated with the hospital. With the number of doctors’ appointments I have, I am in the complex several times a month walking the same hallways as the hospital professionals.

Throughout this glut of information, I am seeing a lot of finger pointing to the hospital, medical professionals, and CDC. I am seeing very little about patient responsibility which, I believe, is the center of effective medical care.

Patient zero did tell the ER staff that he had traveled to Africa. Did he actually happen to tell anyone that he had been exposed to Ebola? Not that I can tell from all reports. And talk about patient IRRESPONSIBILITY, the nurse that traveled to Cleveland on an airplane knowing that she had been exposed to Ebola and was running a fever is, in my opinion, simply unforgivable.

Ebola is an extreme circumstance, but patient responsibility extends to everyone dealing with a medical condition, regardless of what condition is being treated. My primary patient responsibility guidelines are:

  • Be honest with your health practitioner – even about the things you’d rather not say. If you’re taking “recreational” drugs or a range of natural health supplements, your doctor needs to know that so they can safely prescribe treatment.
  • Volunteer information you feel is relevant. If patient zero had said the word “Ebola” we would probably be in a very different situation than we are now. Doctors cannot read minds. They will ask a series of basic questions but it’s up to us, as patients, to fill in pertinent information.
  • Be an educated patient. You shouldn’t diagnose or presume treatments based on your research (that’s what doctors are for), but having a background on various treatments and their side effects will help you understand your doctor’s recommendations and give you the power to ask relevant questions about your situation.
  • Participate in medical treatment decisions. If you simply cannot stand to give yourself an injection and you’re not going to adhere to your treatment because of it, tell your doctor so you can discuss alternatives. For example, auto-injecting pens are often more palatable than syringes for many people.
  • Once a treatment plan is decided, adhere to the plan. It’s not going to work if you don’t do it. Do not go back to your next doctor’s appointment and simply say, “It didn’t work.” If it didn’t work because of non-compliance, then say so. You need to find a plan that you will follow.
  • If the situation changes dramatically, tell your doctor. I know people who, during treatment for an infection, had spiking fevers. However, the doctor said to come back in two weeks so they were going to wait until their appointment to discuss them.
  • If a treatment plan isn’t working, tell your doctor. Not all therapies work for all patients. It is sometimes necessary to change plans or supplement them. I’ve known people who went to the doctor with a chronic condition and followed the treatment plan but without result. They simply shrugged their shoulders and decided that the doctor was an imbecile or that their condition couldn’t be improved. Doctors need to know what works and what doesn’t work in order to tailor a treatment plan specifically for you.

This is by no means a complete list or perhaps even a list that you or your doctors would compile. But following these guidelines will help ensure that you are an active participant in your health care, which is essential for the best possible outcome.

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