When Is A Patient More Than Just A Patient?

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Sometimes we forget to address the patient as a human being, just like us.

When is a patient more than, what we as healthcare providers view as, just a patient? Do we forget sometimes that the person sitting in front of us is a flesh and blood human being with a past, a history, a family, a back story, having experienced the highest highs, the lowest lows, real-life events such as births, deaths, diseases, the (gradual) aging process, graduations, relationships, marriages, divorces, and so on, just like us?

Patients are complex beings intrinsically tied to their DNA; their genetic makeup comprised of the mental, emotional, physical, physiological and social components. All of these complicated pieces are part of what makes patients human. But sometimes in healthcare, we forget to address the human side. It’s easier to hide behind a computer and fill in the required blank spaces than it is to sit and really listen to the patient for a moment or two. They may come to us burdened with fears and worries of pre-existing notions of what to expect before, during and after some specific medical treatment, surgery or simply a consultation or appointment.

I see this firsthand every single day as a perioperative nurse. They come with a list of questions that we have a professional obligation to address in order to put their minds at ease. When I sense a degree of anxiety and anticipatory dread, I speak to them in a calm voice, assuring the patient that he/she will be well cared for.

The patient is often referred to in the business model, as a “client” or recipient of a service or set of services. As we (all) know, healthcare is big business. But I see beyond the name on a typed schedule. I see beyond the person lying on a stretcher wearing the requisite patient garb. I see a human being, both similar and dissimilar to me in many ways. I ask basic safety questions that I am required to elicit and document such as their name, date of birth, drug & food allergies and procedures to be performed (including laterality if applicable). I explain the order of what to expect after he or she is taken back to the operating room and remind them that when they are extubated or the surgery is completed under sedation or straight local, he/she will recover in the post anesthesia care unit before discharge, and post surgery instructions will be provided once the patient is in a more awake state.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rush-rush of “moving the schedule along” because time is money and money is time. We live in a fast-paced, internet-driven world where many things occur instantaneously. This is the same world where, due to pressures stemming from medical insurance companies and other factors, the “assembly line” has become a widely accepted model in healthcare with regard to surgery and task completion. We are all dealing with time limitations and focused on the next task at hand, moving at mach speed to produce more (product) in less time. Bedside etiquette has almost become a thing of the past.

I have been a patient more times than I can count and having been “on the other side,” as a client, patient and cancer survivor, I can say whole-heartedly that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness in a non-judgmental manner. The physicians, nurses, technicians and ancillary staff who took an extra moment or two to listen and care for me, those are the ones I remember the most.

We are so much more than “clients,” numbers or body parts, i.e. “the gallbladder,” scheduled for check-ups and procedures. We are all human beings in need of gentle reassurance, thorough explanations and kind words. We are always more than just a patient.

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About Author

Nancy B. Cohen, RN, BSN

Nancy B. Cohen, RN, BSN has been a nurse for 31 years, primarily in the operating room. She is currently employed as a full-time Perioperative Nurse @ Surgery Center of the Main Line/Phoenixville Hospital - Tower Health

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