E = EXACT
Health Care is not an exact science. That’s right. We want it to be…and I see much frustration, disappointment and even desperation because of this fact, but it’s the truth. Despite all the medical advances and advertising of drugs that seem to point to the opposite, there really isn’t a “pill” for every illness or a test to diagnose every medical condition. Sometimes there is no clear cut answer to a health problem, nor a solution.
Medicine and Pharmacy are applied science which means we take science and apply it to people. We take everything we know about anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, therapeutics, etc., and apply it to individuals who have their own unique physical, biological and genetic differences (not to mention the social, cultural, and psychological aspects). From this application of knowledge to each individual situation, diagnosis is made and treatments are decided upon.
E = ERRORS
This applying of science also means that medical care is not perfect. Combine that with the speed at which this knowledge needs to be applied to patients and situations, errors are inevitable. Here’s a quote from Dr. Brian Goldman that had me thinking this week.
What I’ve learned is that errors are absolutely ubiquitous. We work in a system where errors happen every day. Where 1 in 10 medications are either the wrong medication given in hospital or the wrong dosage… In this country as many as 24,000 Canadians die [every year] from preventable medical errors. [which is a gross underestimate]
We all know someone who has had sub-optimal medical care or errors made in their care. Often there is anger towards the professionals that made the mistake. I’ve been on both ends of that situation.
There is an expectation of perfection in health care. As patients we expect our health professionals to be competent, and so we should. But as a health professional I know we are all human and lack perfection. We all fall short and can make mistakes.
I’ve made mistakes in my career and will most likely make a few more before I am done. Fortunately I have never made a mistake that has seriously harmed someone or caused a death. But I know each time I put my lab coat on it is a real possibility.
The possibility for error is why I continually encourage people to be engaged in their health care. Not because you shouldn’t trust your health providers. Quite the opposite. You need to be an active partner so a trust relationship is essential. Working as a team is the best way to ensure optimum health care. How can you do this? Get to know your own body, your medical conditions, your medications. Ask questions. We need you to be as educated as possible.
More and more patients are getting health information over the internet. (Interestingly, Health Professionals are often divided over this. Some thinking this is great and others not so much). I think the more knowledge you acquire about your own health the better. And this is where the trust relationship comes into play. Yes, there can be some bad information out there. So you check it out with your doctor or pharmacist.
Last week I had a patient in tears because she had read on the internet that her diabetes medication could give her seizures and she didn’t know what to do. Was that good information? No. It wasn’t true. But I didn’t advise her to stay away from internet health information. I provided her with some reputable sites and encouraged her to learn more about her disease and contact me in a week to go over what she had learned. As one e-patient says in this video, “When push comes to shove you check with your [health professional]. They’re there for a reason”
Here’s an example of the growing movement of “e-patients.” As you’ll see, the “e” stands for many great attributes that can lead to a safer, more participatory, less paternalistic model of health care.