DR LYDIA THURTON
My best friend has been in the hospital for two weeks, with no end in sight. Originally, she was told that she would be in for a maximum of five days. It was a routine surgery but everything that was supposed to go right, went so wrong. She was vibrant and healthy before she went in. I saw her yesterday and she was thin, pale, exhausted and had tubes running in and out of her body. Since being in the hospital, she has been the victim of a number of medical mistakes. Simple ones, like the nurse forgetting to unclamp the drip to allow the antibiotic to flow into her vein, and more complex ones, like botching her surgery, causing bleeding and infection. She feels as though she’s up against the entire medical system, as no one seems to be taking her complaints seriously. Her situation made me wonder about how patients can protect themselves.
Firstly, it’s important to request copies of all of your bloodwork and imaging studies – X rays, CT scans, MRIs. Labs now offer online portals where patients can sign in and view their own lab work. Oftentimes, patients rely on a phone call from their doctor to inform them of abnormal values; sometimes these calls are missed. Lab work is not easy to read for the lay person, but it is easy to tell if something is not normal. It will be highlighted or written in a different column from the other results, so it stands out. This also allows you to track your progress over time. Instead of comparing yourself to the reference range which is the same for everyone, you can compare yourself to you.
My friend had a gut feeling when she woke up from surgery that something was not right. She’d had procedures before and had never felt so terrible upon waking up from anesthesia. Her inkling was ignored by medical professionals for three days, until they found out she was right. If you feel that something you are hearing from your doctor does not make sense, seek out a second opinion. Do not worry about offending your doctor. Your health is more important, and I find in health care the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” is definitely true. Advocate for yourself.
I also think that doctors who avoid answering questions do a disservice to their patients. It’s your body, and your health is the most important asset you have. Some of my patients ask more questions when they are getting their car fixed, than they do at the doctor’s office. Find a family doctor who takes the time to answer questions. Write down your most burning questions so that you can stay organized and use time wisely. If you are going for a procedure you don’t understand, write or record what the doctor is saying to you so that you can go home and review the information. It can be hard to take it all in at the time the doctor is speaking to you.
Utilize services like Best Doctors, a company that finds you second opinions and other physicians to review your case and provide you with advice. If you have a major health decision to make, it can be amazingly helpful to access the best medical specialists from Canada and the U.S. This is especially true if you have a rare condition that a doctor may only see a few times.
Making health decisions you can be confident in does wonders for your peace of mind, and can result in better outcomes.