I sat on the cold exam table with a patient gown covering my nakedness and my feet dangling bare. The surgeon, fully dressed in a white lab coat, stood before me, annoyed. I had asked a question regarding my care. His response:
"Ah, nurses. You are the worst patients."
"Are we your worst patients, or your most educated?" I asked.
Perhaps his opinion of caring for nurses would change were he conscious of the pitfalls to avoid. Taking away control from any patient will not lead to success; it flat out fails as a strategy when your patient is a healthcare provider. The lack of awareness of his body language, coupled with the lopsidedness of my nakedness to his clothing, is an indicator.
Important information should be conveyed to a patient respectfully, with both parties fully dressed. In other words, keep the playing field level. Other potential pitfalls healthcare providers bring when seeking oncology treatment are:
Discomfort with relinquishing to caregiver role to a colleague
Knowledge that medical mistakes happen, which equals high indexes of suspicion
Attempting to direct the care, often with poor results
Reading too far ahead in the textbook for our own good
Erroneously attaching our diagnosis to other patients' experiences
Not necessarily being experts on our diagnosis, even though we are experts in our chosen specialties
Despite the potential pitfalls, caring for patients who are healthcare providers is generally a positive experience.
We generously educate our caregivers about our treatment history and diagnosis.
We speak the same language.
Since we know medical mistakes happen, we are surprisingly forgiving.
We realize we are not necessarily experts on our diagnosis, so we'll ask meaningful questions.
We are the most tolerant of patients during our IV starts.
The following tips, which are useful for all patients, are especially helpful when meeting a patient who is also a healthcare provider.
Review their H&P and orders before bringing them into the patient care area or entering their room. Know the purpose of their treatment.
If the patient is a physician, refer to that patient by title, unless the patient indicates otherwise.
Provide patient education. I start by saying, "You probably know this, butÖ" Most of these patients respond, "Talk to me like any patient. I want to be sure I haven't missed something."
Remember that the patient is seeking your help. When discussing treatment, speak in statements, not questions. Take charge of moving the treatment forward, with the patient's consent.
Acknowledge unrecognized fears. A nurse/patient was assigned a patient with his same cancer in an ICU setting. That patient had suffered a serious but uncommon complication. The nurse/patient stated, "I know what's down the road for me," and he explained what he'd witnessed. He was relieved when I explained that the complication, while possible, was not the natural progression of his cancer.
What are your experiences in treating healthcare providers diagnosed with cancer? What are your unique experiences as a patient that you attribute to being a healthcare provider? What pearls of wisdom would you add?