Taking Charge of Your Healthcare Journey

Gone are the days of passive involvement, the importance of patient engagement and empowerment is paramount in getting the care you need and deserve. By actively participating in your healthcare, you can make informed decisions, prevent potential complications, and achieve better outcomes. Patients cannot continue to subject themselves to doctors that are ill-mannered and uninformative or choose to avoid healthcare as a result of an encounter with one or two such doctors. You are your greatest advocate for your needs, if you do not make them clear and accept nothing less, you will suffer the most.

Finding a Trustworthy and Attentive Doctor

You must engage in the process of finding a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with, that fosters open communication and mutual respect, in an active way. Do your research, ask around, and do not commit to someone just because you went once. Think about this process as somewhat of a shopping experience. The first shoe you try will not always fit, and even if it does fit, perhaps a different colour would be more suited to you. There is no one size fits all when it comes to choosing your doctor, so be patient with this process. Even if you have a doctor and things were going well, then somewhere along the line you find that the relationship has broken down and your doctor is not listening, not paying attention to your needs, or not allowing you ventilate your problem anymore, then take the initiative to start your search again. But before you go, ask for a medical summary to take with you, this is your history, don’t leave it, your new doctor should be able to pick up where you left off.  Constantly assessing your situation is vital. Don’t allow yourself to become frustrated or impatient, and worst, do not give up. Everyone should have a healthcare practitioner they visit at least once a year, who knows what their normal is and advises them along their entire lifeline as to good health practices, screening schedules and offers treatment for their acute and chronic illnesses as needed.

No doctor is perfect.

I do not want to be seen as saying that a doctor should somehow be perfect, never too busy, never tired, never irritated or never making any mistakes. This is not realistic. You must give your doctor grace where grace is due. You must recognize that they do not call it the practice of medicine for nothing. Your doctor can only try their best to keep their oath to “do no harm.” But, perhaps this should be qualified to “do no intentional, reckless or negligent harm.” As a physician, we use the knowledge we have, the experience we gained, the information provided by the patient and sometimes further research to come up with the most likely and plausible diagnosis and appropriate management. This does not always give us the correct result. But too many patients jump from one doctor to another with the same set of symptoms, causing the new doctor to have to start from scratch searching for the correct diagnosis. This is counterproductive, if you have a good doctor, stick with this doctor to work through the process of elimination. Your doctor will advise you when it is time to seek another opinion or a specialist. Remember, I don’t speak of blind loyalty, always feel free to seek another physician’s opinion, in doing so, ask your physician to give you a referral, so that the next physician will be properly informed of the issue.  

Let your voice be heard

For the patients in the public system who don’t have the ability to move around from doctor to doctor, you need to start vocalizing your issues in a meaningful and impactful way. Our responsive and attentive Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton, recently penned an article published in the Gleaner titled “Delivering Care with Compassion,” in which he indicated that the health system received 235 complaints through their patient management system. He also informed that the public health system deals with almost 3 million cases per year. However, in trying to find information regarding the patient management system he referred to, I only came across a post on the MOHW website on March 01 of this year indicating that an agreement had been signed to implement this system. I imagine it is possible that this system has been implemented since then, but I don’t think the vast majority of the 3 million cases that present have access to this system, and therefore, this could not be an accurate depiction of the number of overall complaints. The fact is, while the Minister has indicated that under the Compassionate Care Programme they will improve access to the Complaints Management System, patients themselves must make the determination to utilize it and let their voices be heard. So, I implore each person to ask an employee how to make a complaint, send in a complaint though the contact us page on the MOHW website, email myexperience@moh.gov.jm or submit a review about your doctor, good or bad, at jaxinja.com/reviewyourdoctor and let us work together to get some accountability across the board!

Whether you are in the private or public system, you must recognise the importance of finding a doctor that you are comfortable with and remain active in your health care, embrace this empowerment, and pave the way for patient- centred health care, as it should be.

This article was published in the Jamaica Gleaner on August 6, 2023

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