Encouraging Patient Involvement

The Chicago Tribune brings us this story:

Four years ago, when Edward Lawton was admitted to a New York hospital for surgery, he came prepared.

He brought his own case of sterile gloves and asked nurses to use them after washing their hands with soap and water.

He asked for a blood pressure cuff to stay at his bedside so it wouldn’t come in contact with other patients.

And he requested that newspapers not be delivered to his room because “newsprint is dirty” and he wanted to avoid the potential for contamination.

Lawton had reason to be careful: He had acquired several painful, debilitating hospital-based infections during a surgery nearly six years before.

The empowered patient. It’s the type of patient that hospitals want. Hospitals want them because they participate in health care. They are double checkers. And they improve outcomes.

The traditional caveat:

It helps if doctors and nurses are receptive and if they talk to patients and families in terms that they can understand. Rush-Copley Medical Center asks them to do just that each morning in the intensive care unit, when doctors, care managers, nurses and families meet at patients’ bedsides.

Caveat or not, if patients are asking the questions, answers are sure to ensue. Getting them to ask the questions is the difficult part:

Earlier this year, a study of 80 surgery patients in London reported that patients found it much easier to ask factual questions—”how long will I be in the hospital?”—than challenging questions such as “have you washed your hands?”

This reluctance could stem from the aura of authority that surrounds doctors, the authors speculated. The study was published in the British journal Quality and Safety in Health Care.

In December, a separate study of 856 adults in Pennsylvania discovered that 91 percent were willing to ask doctors or nurses to explain something they didn’t understand. But only 25 percent were prepared to ask providers whether they had washed their hands before an examination.

Participatory health care–when the vast majority of patients feel empowered to ask questions–is a change our health care system needs.

PS: it’s coming.

PSS: I’m late to the party.

One thought on “Encouraging Patient Involvement

  1. Thank-you for your post on patient empowerment. hand washing can be a difficult subject for patients, which is why they need to be proactive and state their expectations up front, long before a provider comes near them with unwashed hands.

    I advise patients to say something to the effect of “I know that infections are a problem in health care and I’m trying to keep myself safe by asking everyone to wash their hands and wear gloves, if needed.” Patients could also say “I’m trying to take more responsibility for my care and I’m trying to be an active participant, so I’m reminding everyone who comes near me to wash their hands.” No one is going to argue or feel offended by this logic, especially if the patient or their advocate is polite.

    The goal of my work and my new book is to inform the public about the hundreds of ways that they can have a positive impact on the quality and the safety of their care. The “action steps” in my book are not vague, generalized pieces of advice – they are specific, easily comprehensible steps that anyone can learn.

    I have often referred to patients as an “untapped safety resource” because while we are moving toward an era of greater patient involvement and transparency in health care, we have a long way to go before patients and their loved ones are fully engaged in the process.

    Julia Hallisy
    author of “The Empowered Patient: Hundreds of life-saving facts, action steps and strategies you need to know.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s