Doctors Versus Patients: How To Resolve The Recurring Brawls
“Nothing seems to work in Nigeria,” yelled Chutobi, while pacing the emergency department walkway. “These doctors are extremely unsympathetic to patients and their relatives. Health professionals need to be accountable and if they are not ready to do their jobs, they should simply quit, and alternatives be sought! This is human life we are talking about.”
This is the complaint on twitter, in malpractice suits or repeated by relatives who assault health care givers. What causes this loss of faith by the general populace in people who should be ‘God-sent’? How can this problem be solved? Can sanity, respect of persons and professionalism be returned to the wards of hospitals? I believe so. And a good understanding by both parties may really help.
The list of concerns by those who seek health care services is long. It includes unsympathetic doctors and health care practitioners (including those who ask for deposits before they can attend to dying people), delays in getting appropriate care and unavailability of world standard care among others.
Health professionals also complain of the huge burden of work without commensurate benefits, unavailability of modern equipment to give standard care, and unrealistic expectations of patients and caregivers who often come to the hospitals late (frequently with complications and having exhausted funds elsewhere) and expect the miraculous.
An attempt to write on each problem will be too tedious to read. I am simply going to state some solutions, which I feel, will have the highest impact on the reduction of acrimony between the populace and their caregivers. The first set of recommendations is for the general public. Everyone needs to understand that healthcare is always expensive, and you should be prepared to pay for it. While health insurance is the best model for financing health care, no one should consider it a curse or a waste of his resources when it is spent on one’s health. Readiness (insurance, health emergency savings and family support) to fund health emergencies will ensure people get to hospitals earlier, without complications and are less inclined to be aggressive when a treatment plan is outlined.
Secondly, a healthy doctor-patient relationship usually starts with presuppositions that the healthcare giver will always do good. Where this background is absent, it is unlikely any therapeutic benefit will be achieved. I know years of misrepresentation may make this difficult to believe but very few doctors will intentionally do harm. You need to understand that a doctor’s perspective may be very different from the layperson’s and may influence his attitude, which may seem obnoxious and inconsiderate. A good example is a trauma case. A doctor who ignores the screaming victims and chooses to attend to the quiet ones first has been trained unlike others to recognise that the quiet ones most urgently need help. They are either in shock, have a neurologic injury and definitely can’t muster the strength to shout like the man with ‘just’ scratches. This mindset makes you more objective, ask questions or seek second opinions and definitely less vindictive.
Healthcare givers, on the other hand, need to improve their counselling skills and empathy. A typical Nigerian doctor usually does not take the time to explain the cause, complications, treatment options, and expected outcomes and why the current treatment plan is preferred. An informed client disabused of false notions from the Internet and ‘market-gists’ is more cooperative and less alarmed at the presence of complications. On empathy, every caregiver has to learn how not to be desensitized to seeing people suffer. This will require some effort on the part of the practitioner. I don’t pray that once in a while, our loved ones should fall sick and roles are reversed. However, we should strive to remember that a patient lost could be just a piece of statistics or a father, a mother, a breadwinner or an only child.
A harmonious, efficient and effective healthcare system requires joint ownership of sophisticated machinery by society and healthcare givers. We all have a role to make it less traumatic the few times we have to utilise its services.