Becoming a doctor requires years and years of education and training. Graduation culminates those many years and sends forth another generation who’ve repeated the Hippocratic Oath. The Hippocratic Oath, a statement dating back to antiquity, provides a professional framework for doctors as well as others in the medical profession. One of the myths surrounding this oath, however, is the phrase ‘do no harm.’ That phrase is universally assumed, but is not actually included in the text. Read the English translation of the Hippocratic Oath provided by the National Institutes of Health.
Can a document from thousands of years ago be applicable now? Questioning the relevancy of the Hippocratic Oath is valid. Though it may not accurately represent current medical realities, highlighting aspects of the Oath such as putting the patient’s best interest foremost, maintaining patient privacy and promoting further medical knowledge in oneself and others are part of any health professionals’ moral and ethical responsibility. Unfortunately, even assuming everyone in the medical field is so motivated it’s not enough to insure errors aren’t made.
Patients need to prepare for appointments. Think about and write down any questions you may have on:
- The diagnosis and prognosis
- The doctor’s experience with this condition
- Any tests or lab work requested
- Follow up appointments (lab work, physical/occupational therapies, etc)
- Physical limitations, diet restrictions
Regarding medication, patients need to bring a list of all drugs—prescribed and over-the-counter—and their dosages. Insurance is another aspect that needs to be addressed. Some insurance companies require pre-authorization for certain procedures. Additionally, some patients may depend on Medicaid and/or Medicare. Understanding the difference between Medicaid and Medicare is important as is knowing what types of coverage each program provides. A chart by United Healthcare outlines a comparison between these two governmental programs.
Visiting a doctor for a routine physical may be fairly straight-forward, but if the patient is ill, be it an acute or chronic condition, and especially in life-threatening or impaired-memory conditions, a patient advocate is invaluable. A patient’s stress level, their fatigue, and their illness can make communicating with medical staff challenging. Communication errors can be deadly. An article on the Mayo Clinic website provides tips to reduce communication problems and resulting medication errors.
Ideally, a family member can serve as their loved-one’s advocate. Serving as a patient advocate could involve:
- Attending appointments—note-taking, asking for clarification, offering support or comfort, note phone number for emergencies, compile a file folder for records
- Coordinating follow-up appointments,
- Picking up medications,
- Filling out and/or mailing required paperwork
- Provide or arrange meals
But what happens when there are no family members or they aren’t available?
The need for some type of liaison is essential whenever a patient has a serious medical condition. One non-family, option is Patient Care Assistants (PACs). A PAC has basic training as a nurses’ assistant and additional training in several areas such as phlebotomy, EKG, and an introduction to physical therapy. PACs are capable of caring for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and patient homes. Another avenue: Members from the church or temple serving their congregation as volunteers. An online resource is Patient Advocate. Patient Advocate provides ‘professional case management services to Americans with chronic, life-threatening, and debilitating illnesses.’
An unknown author’s quote highlights the need for a patient advocate: ‘A doctor who cannot take a good history and a patient who cannot give one are in danger of giving and receiving bad treatment’…reduce this risk and increase the odds to do no harm.