By Sue Robins, Canadian Patient Storyteller and Author of Bird's Eye View: Stories from a life lived in health care.
It is the lack of humanity that ails health care. There is a lack of humanity for patients, families, staff, clinicians, physicians and administrators. Every single person who touches health care, from the attendant in the parkade to the ICU patient, is suffering right now in health care settings because of a basic lack of humanity. We are all in this mess together.
We are not being human to each other. The way health care is constructed is not for humans. It veered off course in the late 1980’s when some yahoo with power read some article about the efficiencies in Toyota car factories. They decided that health care should be built around efficiencies, not people. That was a big mistake.
Paying physicians on a fee for service model comes from that terrible philosophy. Funding hospitals based on how sick patients are comes from that model. This has translated into: Bring only one question to your doctor and you will have ten minutes maximum. Clinicians rushing from patient to patient. And the sickest, most urgent patients get care, but everybody else can bloody well wait, no matter the harm it causes you.
If you work in health care or you are a patient or have a loved one who uses health care, I don’t have to explain this whole disaster to you.
It is time for a reset. I am not going to preach about system-wide change. The only change we can make is to change ourselves – in how we treat ourselves and how we treat other people. That’s the kind of change I’m interested in. Maybe if we all start doing that, then eventually we will push out the corporates, the bullies and the bean counters. Then we can start hiring leaders who believe in the humanity of health care too. That will be the tipping point.
I know that patients are suffering. I know that those who work in health care are suffering. It strikes me that we are suffering for the same reason: We do not feel seen. We do not feel heard. We feel left out. We don’t have control of our own lives. The processes set up in the car-factory-like health system are wearing us down.
Here is my bold call to action: What if instead of comparing our suffering and blaming each other for our suffering, we band together? I’m not talking about the cheerleading that hospital patient relations and foundation people want. I’m talking about being real with each other. It is a mistake to think this is only about staff morale and patient complaints. Only by caring for each other will staff morale improve and patient complaints decrease. Don’t wait for the system to do this for you because it never will. Health care was not built for humans.
Patients can help people working in health care find meaning again in their work. Read this article to see how. Let us heal each other.
Over and over, I see a plea from patients asking for respect, dignity and inclusion in issues that matter greatly in their own lives. I think health professionals crave the same respect, dignity and inclusion in issues that matter greatly in their lives too.
What if patients and professionals band together and commit to being more human with each other, one person at a time? This would mean that health care folks would have to commit to letting down the guard of their professionalism. Health care staff and physicians would to stop hiding behind their titles.
Let patients see you as a person. I don’t want a perfect robot treating me or cleaning my hospital room. I want a flawed, imperfect human being. Chit chat with me. Put your hand on my shoulder, Hug me. Cry with me. Tell me about your day. I want to see you and you want to be seen. Say you don’t know. (I know you can’t know everything). Admit that you are sorry. The system doesn’t care about you. But I do.
I don’t know you care unless you show me you care. More than anything when I was going through cancer treatment, I wanted to see my oncologist’s heart. She never allowed me a peek in. She had a constructed a tall, seemingly impenetrable wall around her heart and it was protected by the system-built lack of time she spent with me. The combination of those two things made me feel invisible and miserable. My oncologist seemed miserable too, trapped inside her well-dressed facade. She never smiled so neither did I. I walked out of every appointment as demoralized as she seemed to be. I felt her unhappiness. I wanted to tell her – we are all in this together but she never gave me a chance.
I think we are all desperate for the same thing: dare I say, the word that medicine fears. That word is love. Allowing love to seep into health care is what is going to save us all in the end.
Sue has written an entire book about what ails and what heals in health care.
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