Healthcare has come a long way. The technology and skill used today saves thousands of lives and is nothing short of miraculous. We’ve also evolved in the way we think about our interactions with patients, yet we still have a long way to go. It used to be a common belief that caregivers did things to patients, which evolved to them doing things for patients (patient as a customer) to more recently doing things with patients (patients as partners). This last option is still way out in the distance, but at least, in some areas, it’s a part of the conversation.
We need to change the way we think about our patients: not as passive receivers of our care, but rather as crucially important active participants in their very individual plan of care. We need to start viewing them–and perhaps even referring to them–as partners.
The worst way to refer to someone who is in our care is as their medical record number, their room number, or any other number associated with them for efficiency purposes. Referring to people as numbers sends signals to our brains dehumanizing them as things, objects, instead of people. Unconsciously, they become less than human to us.
We evolved a little bit and the concept of doing something for our patients was born. Patient as a customer. But this doesn’t hit the mark either. It’s a nice thought–putting the customer, in this case the patient, first–but it is also unbalanced and dangerous. In healthcare, we are not dealing with a patient who didn’t get the correct amount of caramel pumps in their latte. Patients are not medical experts. They don’t always know what’s best for them, even if they think they do. Healthcare professionals would be denying their responsibility to ensure the well-being of their patients by taking the stand, “the patient is always right”. That’s ridiculous and negligent in healthcare.
The hot spot is in the middle. Not seeing patients as a number–an object that simply must endure whatever we put them through–but not swinging to the other end of the spectrum where we concede that the patient is always right. In the middle, patients are people. In the middle we do things with our patients, including them in the conversations about their care, their options, their concerns, and what’s most important to them. We listen and empower them by considering their observations and insights regarding their care or the care of their loved ones. In the middle, patients who are viewed as people can only then be incorporated into the plan of care as partners. They rely on the caregivers for expertise, while at the same time playing an active role in the care team and plan for their individual care.
We talk about keeping the patient at the center, which is important. The care is all about them. However, if we don’t purposefully bring them into the conversation, we are missing out on valuable information that will affect care outcomes, not to mention add to the suffering the patient is already inherently going through from their diagnosis and treatment. Keeping them in the center of the care but silencing their voice is of no use. Their well-being must be the center of all decisions made, but their voice must also be a part of the making of those decisions.
What if we could evolve to throwing out the word patient, and instead call them partners? Yes, they still epitomize the original use of the word: they are suffering–from their diagnosis and the treatment associated with that diagnosis. But we do not have to add to that suffering by the inadequacies in our systems and the dehumanizing interactions we have with them while their in our care. What if we considered them and called them equal partners in their care? Communication would open and important conversations would take place that would have significant influence on safety and quality care outcomes. In our realm, patients should be partners.
What do you think about the concept of patients as partners? As caregivers, do you see yourself categorizing patients as someone you do something to, for, or with? As patients, which would you prefer?
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