A view from the other side

Posted by Dr Catherine Rutland on 17/01/2019

The last few weeks have seemed a little bit like a ‘view from the other side’, some of it in our field and some in other areas of healthcare. In a short space of time I have experienced routine checks, treatment with and without local anaesthetic, surgery, a GA and a hospital stay, and not all for the same thing!

Despite the fact that of course out of choice you wouldn’t necessarily want all of the above, it has given me the opportunity to consider how our patients feel and how we disseminate information.

What always amazes me about myself is that in these settings I am completely rubbish as a patient at asking what I should ask, taking in the information provided, doing what they ask and really understanding what is going on. Consequently when asked by friends and family what is going on I probably sound either as if I am very stupid or being really evasive!

But actually am I a rubbish patient or a normal one? I would like to think that it is the latter, and that is where the learning starts.

The first is trust, the huge trust that I placed in each of the healthcare team in each area that I have seen. All of them were new to me, although in the dental domain not personally but from a care perspective, and yet my default in all cases was trust. The second is the passing over of responsibility to the healthcare worker. My brain seems to just almost freeze but in a good way, even when it comes to dentistry! I think this is where the consent issue can come in and why it is questioned if things go wrong. When things go well, the patient listens, takes some of it in, feels comfortable enough at that stage to go ahead and treatment commences. Questions may not even come in to their heads, or certainly not at a point when they feel they have the option to ask.

I found myself signing a consent form before surgery under GA and being reminded of a study I had read about whilst doing my masters. It found that most people sign consent forms because they think otherwise they won’t get the treatment. I was kind of in that category. Of course, I knew what was happening and it was explained well and the risks associated and I had made the decision before arriving that I was going ahead. But I had not seen the form before and if I had suddenly decided there was something on it that I didn’t agree to, would I have questioned it? Your brain is not in a normal place, I am a relaxed patient but sitting in a hospital room waiting to be operated on can often mean your brain is not working in full normal function. If I try and imagine what it must feel like if you are a more nervous patient the chances probably get less.

But if something goes wrong then all the questions you wanted to ask but didn’t become very important and forefront in your mind. If you feel you weren’t given answers do you lay the responsibility at your own door because you didn’t ask or at the professionals door because they didn’t tell you? Then you have to consider whether they actually didn’t tell you or whether you didn’t hear. Assuming the information has been given and the opportunity for questions was there, the level of responsibility the patient takes will decide whether a complaint occurs or not. That can be one of the reasons why on the receiving end it can be difficult to understand why some people will complain and some won’t. Needless to say that is when what is written in the clinical notes becomes so critical.

My final thoughts are around attitudes and smiles. When you are ‘on the other side’ a smile means so much and we must never forget that. On tough days that may seem really hard to keep doing but believe me the impact is huge! Add to that a caring attitude and from a patient perspective you will then put up with a lot as far as discomfort is concerned whilst treatment is occurring and afterwards.

We know who and what we care about (and actually if your profession is not in that list I would challenge why you are still doing what you are doing) and that is as much in our personal as well as professional lives. Remember to show it, because from the other side it really really means a lot.

This column was first published in The Dentist magazine in January 2019.


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