The Importance of Patient Feedback
Our healthcare system can be extremely complicated for patients to navigate. And, all too often, it seems like patients are a captive audience, with little to no power to influence how we are treated. Is there anything that we can do about that?
Recently, my three-year-old son had to visit a local hospital for some outpatient testing. Unfortunately, it was not a good experience for either of us. I was understandably nervous about the possibility that my son had a health issue and my son, who is a very sensitive child, was extra scared because he could tell that I was upset.
We interacted with four staff members before seeing the doctor, and none of them did anything to help either of us feel less nervous. In fact, many of the things they did made both of us feel worse. For example, I was wearing my son in a carrier to help him feel more comfortable, and one of the nurses told him that he was too big for me to wear him. My already scared little guy thought he was being reprimanded! The staff also started procedures, including touching my son and attaching wires to his body, without explaining to either of us what they were about to do.
I am obviously no stranger to dealing with medical situations, but even I felt unnerved. I think a parent with less experience would have been even more uncomfortable. And while my son was very brave, I worry about how a less cooperative child would have been treated. The whole experience got me thinking about how patients are sometimes not treated as well as they should be. So many of us with chronic conditions deal with situations like this on a regular basis. What, if anything, can we do about it?
I think the first thing patients can do when they have bad a experience is provide feedback. It takes some effort, but it is important. If we don’t tell medical providers what they have done wrong, how will they ever improve? Most medical offices and hospitals have official procedures for providing anonymous feedback.
Unfortunately, even providing feedback can sometimes be easier said than done. When I decided to report my son’s recent experience, I wanted to provide it in written format so I could think about what I was saying and make sure I was being fair and constructive, rather than getting emotional on the phone. I used the hospital’s online contact form twice without getting any sort of a response. I finally got another email address for them through contacting the hospital on Twitter. (Twitter is actually great for getting companies to respond, as it is a public forum). I have received a few emails following up on my concerns, but I still have yet to receive a satisfactory response. But I am being persistent in the hopes that the hospital will improve interactions for future patients. And, if you have a bad experience, I encourage you to do the same.
Another thing patients can do is make future appointments with a different doctor. Luckily, in our case, the results of the tests mean my son won’t need any follow-up care right now – but if he did I would certainly be choosing a different hospital. Unfortunately, patients don’t usually have the power to be particularly choosy – as we are often limited by insurance considerations as to which doctors we can choose. But no matter which doctor we end up with, it is always their job to provide us with good care. I know it takes a lot of effort, especially when we aren’t feeling our best, but we should always advocate for ourselves and do what we can to seek out the best care.
The last thing I can think of to try to improve this situation for patients – both current and future – is to talk about this issue. To unite our voices about the quality of care that patients deserve. If we speak loudly enough, hopefully doctors and insurance companies will start to listen.