Jul 07 2011

July – a Potentially Dangerous Time for Healthcare

(as published in the Syracuse Post Standard
July 5, 2011)

Seven years ago this week, I found a golf ball sized lump on my torso that changed the course of my life. After its removal, I was diagnosed with a rare, terminal form of lymphoma. Subsequently I determined I didn’t really have lymphoma.  That was eventually confirmed medically, and I have never had treatment.

The fact that my tumor appeared in the month of July played a prominent role in my misdiagnosis.

Why July?

When we need medical care, we need to receive the best care possible.  That best care requires a team of professionals playing different roles, depending on what ails us.  From doctors and surgeons, to nurses, lab specialists and others, the team must conduct itself in a highly coordinated and collaborative manner to be sure we get the right answers and care. They dance a well-coordinated healthcare tango because each knows the right steps.

But sometimes there’s someone new on the team who doesn’t know how to tango.  A new dancer can cause the entire team to stumble or fall. When that happens, we patients suffer.

July brings many new team members.

First, many of the “regular” professionals take vacations beginning with the July Fourth holiday, throughout the summer. That means new, sometimes temporary replacements must step in. They may only know how to waltz.

The second set of new members are recently graduated medical students. Having just completed their studies in May and June, they begin their residencies July 1. Not only don’t they know how to function within the team, but they have barely learned the two-step.  A study reported in 2010 showed that counties with academic medical hospitals showed a 10 percent increase in medical mistakes in in July.

So how can we patients protect ourselves?

If possible, avoid medical care in July.  In particular, any care that will require you to be hospitalized should be handled either before July 1, or postponed, if possible.

If you can’t avoid medical care in July, then be sure to verify every step with an advocate’s help.  This includes double checking any lab work that yields unusual results, which – yes – was the root of my misdiagnosis.

No doubt those professionals who care for us in July have the very best intentions.  But doing a tango with someone who only knows how to waltz results in toe-stepping and bad results.  If possible, it’s a dance we patients should just sit out.

………. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC ………………

 Your Annual July Warning – No Time to Seek Healthcare

How the Calendar and Time of Day Affect Your Hospital Care

and

What to Do If You Must be Admitted to the Hospital Anyway

……………………………………………………………………………………

Want More Patient Empowerment?
Find Hundreds of Articles at:

Every Patient’s Advocate

About.com Patient Empowerment

…and…
sign up for 2x per month newsletters of
Patient Empowerment Tips

……………………………………………………………………………………

2 comments

    • Joni on July 7, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Very interesting and astute connection Trisha! I have been saying for the past couple of weeks it’s extremely difficult to get physician appointments and coordinate treatment during this month. But I didn’t consider the care implications due to the staff shortages due to vacations etc. Thank you for sharing this!! Regards, Joni Liebel

    • LiL A on July 10, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I never really thought of this in the past. Then again, I am usually the one researching and choosing my doctor any time of the year, not just July. To me, the selection of a doctor to care for me is very important, and I feel that a relationship should be formed.

    I am not defending the mistakes of those that are learning the practice of medicine, but medical students often must learn what not to do and what to do the hard way. Unfortunately, the mistakes made in medicine carry a very high price. That is the bad part of medicine. If you are a healthcare worker, sometimes you literally have the life and well-being of your patients in your hands. Sometimes you will be faced with difficult decisions or the lack of good decisions. That is what they term a dilemma. With a dilemma, there will be some good and bad done and even some good not done with any decision you can make. In this case, you have to make a decision that will do the least harm or leave the least good undone.

    I think it’s also up to patients to seek the kind of care that they want. They should ask questions often, and the healthcare worker, be it nurse or doctor, should be open and willing to answering these questions. They shouldn’t discourage the patient from researching about their diagnosis, and should, when the patient does bring in inaccurate or misinterpreted information as is almost inevitable in these cases, patiently correct them. Then again, doctors and nurses should learn to not talk down to the patient by coming to their eye level. These are all things that patients can help the inexperienced medical and nursing students and newbie doctors to learn, we just need to not be afraid to be willing to teach them and healthcare workers shouldn’t be afraid to learn them. After all, medicine is not just science, but an art as well, and the art as well as the science must be learned and perfected in order to provide quality care.

Comments have been disabled.

%d bloggers like this: