People need to take on more responsibility for safeguarding their own health, according to a book entitled The Patient’s Advocate. Its author, Barbara Huttmann, writes on the basis of thirty-five years of experience as a patient and a nurse. She strongly believes that everyone who enters a hospital should have an “advocate,” a marriage mate, a close friend, someone who will ask intelligent questions and safeguard the patient’s rights when the person is too sick to do so.
She explains that nurses cannot always defend patients from errors in treatment, since statistics show that fifty-seven hospital employees enter a patient’s room every day. As a result, “the law of probabilities guarantees the patient will be subject to human error.” What kind of errors? Errors in medication, in diagnosis, in treatment of the wrong patient because the result of a laboratory test was put on the wrong person’s chart.
“We had a fifty-five-year-old woman patient who was told by a doctor she had syphilis,” the nurse recounts. “The patient was hysterical. She had been married for thirty-five years to the same man. She was not running around and as far as she knew she was the only woman in his life. What happened was that the lab had posted results of some other person’s test on her chart. Meanwhile, she was well on her way to getting a divorce from her husband.”
What does the nurse recommend for hospital patients? She stresses that if something does not seem logical to the patient or the patient’s advocate, it should be questioned without delay. “But,” she adds, “we rarely do that—somehow, we feel we aren’t allowed to ask questions.”
In defense of doctors, she writes that most people are not willing to take responsibility for their own health. They often eat too much, smoke and drink heavily and then expect a doctor to work a miracle on their diseased bodies. “So, the doctor is put in the position of having God-like powers, according to our expectations, and often, if he is willing to answer, we don’t want to listen,” she explains. “We just want to go to him, childlike, and say ‘fix it.’” The point made is that most patients need to accept more responsibility for safeguarding their own health.