Patient Perspective: “I Want To Be Treated Like A Human Being”

In most professions, “we” talk about the “clients” we serve.  Waiters talk about diners who leave lousy tips.  Athletes complain about unsupportive fans.  Pastors “share” about the unthankful members of their congregation.  And healthcare providers grouse about their patients.

But what do our clients think about “us”?

During a recent community health panel, we found out.

The panel featured three residents from the Hunting Park community in Philadelphia, the site of our three-week medical missions project.  Hunting Park is Philadelphia’s second poorest neighborhood.  Although it has many, many assets, it also faces many challenges, and we wanted to hear about them –   straight up – from the people who live there.

What we learned was fascinating.

One older woman, recovering from major surgery, emphasized that she wants to be treated “like a human being.”  She said that younger physicians don’t touch their patients anymore, something she misses and feels contributes to a mechanical patient-physician relationship.

“Beyond touch,” we asked her, “what else could be done to make the relationship better?”

She responded by emphasizing that, overall, patients want to be treated with dignity, the dignity that comes from being a person.  Greeting patients properly (looking them in the eye and using their name) and using a kind tone of voice (even at the end of the day!) are tangible ways of giving people the honor they deserve.

The panel also featured several healthcare providers.  It was phenomenal to see the patients and providers interacting with each other kindly, with real humility.  There was real honesty, too.  They were living out the sort of dignity the patient above is calling for.

All this means that there’s hope that providers and patients can do more than simply tolerate each other.  When we recognize that God created each one of us, we can treat each other with the dignity God is calling us to despite the challenges and annoyances that are sure to come.

As you interact with the patients (or other relationships) God has given you, how can you begin to show them more dignity?  Maybe it’s asking God to help you overcome the jaded attitude you’ve developed toward them.  Perhaps it’s asking them if they have any questions and really meaning it.  Maybe it’s allowing yourself to feel their suffering, sharing it with them, even if you can only do it for a moment or two.  Or, if we’re really brave, we can ask our patients what would matter most to them.

No doubt, if we ask, God and our patients will let us know.

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