Have a Story to Tell? Had a medical error?

This blog is about patient safety, medical malpractice, staying healthy, and preventing future errors. Help & empower someone else, Teach a lesson, Bear witness, Build our community - Email us or call 781-444-5525.

Frustrated with a health problem?

Need an ally in your health crisis? Call 781-444-5525, or learn more.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The only problem: Impersonal hospital care

Dr. Dena Rifkin's plaint:
A close family member was recently hospitalized after nearly collapsing at home. He was promptly checked in, and an EKG was done within 15 minutes. He was given a bar-coded armband, his pain level was assessed, blood was drawn, X-rays and stress tests were performed, and he was discharged 24 hours later with a revised medication list after being offered a pneumonia vaccine and an opportunity to fill out a living will.

The only problem was an utter lack of human attention. An E.R. physician admitted him to a hospital service that rapidly evaluates patients for potential heart attacks. No one noted the blood tests that suggested severe dehydration or took enough history to figure out why he might be fatigued.

A doctor was present for a few minutes at the beginning of his stay, and fewer the next day. Even my presence, as a family member and physician, did not change the cursory attitude of the doctors and nurses we met.

Yet his hospitalization met all the current standards for quality care.

As a profession, we are paying attention to the details of medical errors – to ambiguous chart abbreviations, to vaccination practices and hand-washing and many other important, or at least quantifiable, matters.

But as we bustle from one well-documented chart to the next, no one is counting whether we are still paying attention to the human beings. No one is counting whether we admit that the best source of information, the best protection from medical error, the best opportunity to make a difference – that all of these things have been here all along.

The answers are with the patients, and we must remember the unquantifiable value of asking the right questions.

Advice: Find a doctor who will take time with you.

Read another story about impersonal hospital care. Thanks to Dr. Rifkin for the source story in the NY Times of Nov. 17.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with Dr, Rifkin's appeal to pay attention to the patient (see my review of "High Performance Helathcare" last month in my newsletter). The patient must always be viewed as part of their healthcare team and treated accordingly. This will require a major paradigm shift for most healthcare settings. On the other hand, Dr. Rifkin should be somewhat overjoyed that her close family member received technically sound healthcare. This is too often not the case. -John James, PhD,