For those of us who have been working in healthcare for some time it can be difficult to remain aware of the patient perspective. For many patients what is part of everyday work for us is a significant change in their life. While I would not quite advocate the notion of medical students being forced to experience what life as a patient is like, this article really resonated with me. There still is a significant power difference between doctors and patients, something that Realistic Medicine is planning to reduce by promoting a shared decision making approach. And injuries or illnesses can lead to the traumatic disruption described, to the sudden loss of something you have taken for granted. A situation I am only too aware of at the moment.
I suddenly and rather unexpectedly found myself on the receiving end of healthcare following a cycling accident while on holiday in France. I seriously injured my arm and was stuck on the road until the ambulance arrived 30 minutes later. After several phone calls from the ambulance crew I was on a 60 minute journey to the nearest hospital with X-ray facilities. And unlike in the UK I was unable to get any pain killers until I got there as the ambulance did not have any paramedic. It rather brought it home how vulnerable you feel when you are in pain and don’t understand what people are trying to tell you – a situation our patients often find themselves in. While we don’t speak French it is very easy to use medical language because that is what we do with each other all the time. Are we always making sure patients understand? And how often do we really try to understand their perspectives and priorities, find out what the impact on them is?
My experience of the doctors, nurses and other staff I have interacted with has mostly been good. They had sympathy for the loss I am so strongly experiencing and I have received a lot of excellent care and kindness. I have really appreciated what the NHS offers us here in the UK. And that has included the local hospital, my GP and the tertiary referral centre. Communication between all three has been good and the treatment I have and still do receive has made me feel very well cared for. There have also been aspects I have been less happy with. Overhearing that “bed 10” needed medication felt very impersonal and reminded me of Kate Granger’s # hello my name is campaign for more compassionate care. And there have been occasions when the information I was given by different members of the team seemed to be contradictory. That leads to an element of confusion and uncertainty.
All this has also led me to reflect on my role as an ophthalmologist. Have I been as understanding as I could have been when I had to tell people they will not get their sight back, they have to stop driving? I have always tried to understand the impact on them but I am not sure someone else can ever really understand what it is like. And I know that no matter how hard we try sometimes the message does not come across as we would wish.
This was just one of the two very significant changes in my life last year and they could not have been more different. The other one was entirely planned, a career move I had been working towards for a while. After more than 18 years in my previous mainly clinical job as an ophthalmologist I moved to Dumfries to take up the post of Associate Medical Director in the Acute and Diagnostics team. And I could not have been made to feel more welcome. It is fantastic to work with so many people passionate about making a difference to patients. As the news headlines remind us regularly, the NHS is under increasing pressure. So it is really good to see teams come up with innovative ways to overcome challenges. And it is also very important to keep supporting each other in difficult circumstances. Not everyone finds it easy to consider or adjust to different ways of working. I really enjoy getting out and about, meeting patients and staff, listening to their stories and connecting with teams.
What my experience “on the other side” has also made me very aware of is how easy it is to come across differently to how we intend. And this is much more likely to happen while we feel under pressure ourselves, a common occurrence in the NHS today. We are all aiming to provide the best care we can for our patients. Let us remind ourselves to treat each other with compassion, too, and make the most of working together as multidisciplinary teams. I look forward to joining all the different areas to review our services and consider what improvements we can make. In all of this good communication and an understanding of each other’s perspectives is so important. Change is ever present and in the increasingly fast pace of life and healthcare delivery today all of us need to work closely together to support each other and achieve the best outcomes for our patients.
We will all experience life changing events at times. Some of them will be welcome, exciting and motivating. Others will be difficult and challenge us. Those of us working in healthcare are in the privileged position to be able to make a positive difference to people who are struggling. And we can all look out for each other and help those of us who like me will have to adjust to a different way of life with unexpected restrictions.
Christiane Shrimpton is a Consultant Ophthalmologist and Associate Medical Director for the Acute and Diagnostics Directorate at NHS Dumfries and Galloway