We spent a lot of time over the past few months listening to and talking with patients and families from Canada, the U.S. and Europe about patient safety. The common theme of the conversations is that healthcare systems need to do a whole lot better in protecting patients from avoidable harm, or worse, and when it occurs, they need to be much more transparent and forthcoming. Both are a hard battle.
Another theme is the exhaustion and frustration families face in getting answers or, in many cases, even getting a copy of the family member’s medical record. There are dozens of ways a hospital can stonewall or evade. Nearly four years after two Canadian hospitals inflicted a record number of medical errors on my mother, which left her with a severe disability and in a state of what one called “imminent demise,” we are still trying to get answers. In the case of both hospitals, the records show outright lies as to the result of reviews, with the hospitals taking positions that are completely contradicted elsewhere in the medical record.
Even those who have been part of the healthcare system can be shocked at its failure to protect patients and the cover-ups that follow. In one case, a very well credentialed professional who has worked in the hospital setting shared her tragic story about losing a child in the emergency room. She is convinced they missed key indicators that would have predicted the chid’s medical crisis and now she is embroiled in a nightmare just trying to obtain medical records.
Another feeling so often expressed is that bodies responsible for certifying doctors and investigating complaints against them are really more in the house painting business — whitewashing, to be precise. Here it seems that no matter what the evidence, these bodies will be selective in what they consider and almost always disregard the evidence that puts the physician in a negative light. That was certainly my experience this past spring with the results of an “investigation” by Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. I plan to have more on that in an upcoming positing.
The bottom line of these conversations is that families pretty much agree that the deck is stacked against them from the outset. But the interesting thing is that I did not encounter one who felt the battle was not worth it and wanted to give up. All are determined to do everything they can to right a terrible wrong. In doing so, they are a safer healthcare system’s most valuable ally and all patients should be grateful.
God bless them all for being there.