Who is Advocating for You?

I'm having one of those weeks where I just want to pull my hair out. For some reason, the crazy weeks always tend to happen just after vacation or, as is the case now, a long weekend. What is it about taking a little time off from work that makes things so much nuttier when you return?? It’s not even like the time off is really “time off” anyway. There is so much paperwork to do that often a day off is simply a time to catch up – or not. I suspect this is not solely a healthcare related phenomenon, but there are certainly days when I wonder “what in the world I gotten myself into??!!”


But the craziness of this week is not the topic of today’s blog, at least not directly. You see, one of my biggest pet peeves as a doctor, is when a patient tells me they do not feel taken care of by their physician(s). Perhaps it's a simple lack of communication about the location or time of a followup appointment, a patient sitting around the office waiting to be seen for an hour before anyone notices them, failure to discuss results of a nerve-wracking test in a timely fashion, or it could be a huge massive issue, like a medical error.


What remains in a doctor’s control is 1) how well they know their craft, 2) how they decided to execute their knowledge, and 3) how they communicate with patients and their families and/or caregivers.

Now some of these things are out of a physician’s control. The staff at the front desk are tasked with patient in-take, yet sometimes they forget to indicate to the appropriate persona that a patient has actually arrived. Similarly, administrative staff is charged with sending out timely reminders about follow-up appointments that include date, time and location. And, yes, physicians are human and WILL make errors. This happens. And when an error occurs when you are in charge, it is no fun to go and tell a patient what happened.


What remains in a doctor’s control is 1) how well they know their craft, 2) how they decided to execute their knowledge, and 3) how they communicate with patients and their families and/or caregivers. While the first two items are critically important, communication is a vital component of patient care. No one will feel taken care of if they are ignored, snubbed, disrespected, or talked down to. Conversely, even if a patient has to wait an hour to be seen, they will at least feel cared for if someone takes a few seconds to inform them the doctor is running late.


The stress of the doctor-patient relationship is heightened when a patient has a chronic illness that requires multiple weekly or monthly doctor visits to several different specialists. Depending on the institution (and the doctor), it may be necessary to take half a day off from work, just to get your 15 minutes of face-time. So in that 15 minutes, do you really want to have to recount everything that happened at the last 3 appointments you had with other doctors? Leaves no time to discuss why you are seeing the specialist sitting in front of you. Which brings me to the reason for my rant – it is critically important for healthcare providers to communicate with each other AND their patients.


My husband has a chronic illness, which places me squarely in the position of spouse/caregiver. I do NOT want to be his doctor as well. He recently was hospitalized and throughout the entire stay, we found it a challenge to get information about what was going on. Indeed, even now that he’s home, we continue to struggle with getting information. Being sick is scary -- not just for patients, but for their family members too!! My husband and I have been battling the healthcare system for years and appear to be losing. The scary thing is – I am a physician!! If I am having this much trouble navigating, what happens to those who are not capable of or do not understand the importance of advocating for themselves or their loved ones??


Perhaps this is why my days are so hectic – since I know what it is like to be on the other side, I NEVER want my patient, or their family, to feel as if they are alone in this battle. So I make it my responsibility to advocate on behalf of my patients. Who is advocating for you?

Hi, I'm Dr. Karen!

For years, I have been obsessed with understanding why some communities are more greatly impacted by disease than others. So as a medical/graduate student, I decided that I wanted to make sure that everyone had equal access to healthcare and we would no longer have underserved populations in the U.S.

This blog, and this site, is dedicated to the pursuit of eradicating health disparities and empowering communities and individuals to take charge of their own health. 

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Dr. Karen Winkfield provides on-line Internet information as a benefit to the public.
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