Doctors and communication: you don’t have to get angry


An acquaintance of mine is struggling with getting answers from the resident and nurse at the hospital where her husband has been admitted.  He is in a teaching hospital, which is great because they so often are on the cutting edge in medical advancements.  The downside is that the attending physician is rarely the one who presents information, decisions, and treatment plans.  When they ask the resident or the nurse a question, the answer they receive is “we are not sure about that”. Here is the email I sent to her:

In my 10 years of  experience with doctors, interns, residents, and nurses, I’ve found that I have to insist on receiving information I have requested.  I succeed in this by asking them to either
  1. get the info from the attending physician
  2. have the attending stop by with the info
  3. have the attending call me.

Very often the people taking orders from the attending just need the family to push them hard enough to justify contacting the attending. They are intimidated by the attending also! There is no reason to accept “we’re not sure about that” answers.

This family considered having their primary care doctor call the attending.  That just makes for a communications nightmare.  Subsequent questions have to go back to the attending again through the family physician and there is so much lost in translation.
My husband and I often knew how to proceed based on not just the words the attending uses, but their body language, and the response to our follow-up questions.  The attending is getting paid by the family (via health insurance, etc.) to do his job.  They have every right to expect thorough communication.
My acquaintance was also told to “just go home and try it” when she indicated that a specific painkiller does not help her husband. When there is a medication that does not work, the family must stand firm in requesting other meds.  One way to do that is to request a prescription for when the vicodin does not work.
When we went through Natalie’s traumatic pain situation in 2007, hospital #2 wanted to start all over again with Tylenol although that had been tried at hospital #1.  I flatly refused saying unless their Tylenol had something different in it, I was not willing to watch my daughter suffer through their process when the need for more had already been established.
As in everything, you and I are our child’s (and our own) best advocate. We do not have to be an expert in any given field to influence the care and treatment of our children.  So stay strong, be wise, and stand firm when that is necessary.  You do not even have to get angry to do it!
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