Doctor's Orders: Don't Stay Alone in a Hospital

24 Mar 2010

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Atul Gawande, a New York based surgeon, argues that making the (medical) system work well is something that doctors are only starting to grapple with.

Medicine has tended to about isolated parts. About having a "great drug" or a "great doctor." Only in the last few years has it become about making it all fit together for optimum results. 

According to Gawande, doctors are not very good at knitting things together. Often patients see different specialists, but specialists don't talk to each other. 

"We are not great at drawing out the patient. We've wanted the patient to be passive and not so involved -- just do what we say…The more we have different people involved, what we tell people is contradictory. It doesn't always help them the way it should. And as we start to get our act together, I think what we are learning is that the patient plays a key role," acknowledges Gawande.

Patients play an important role because they are often the only ones that see when things falls through the cracks.

Gawande advises people not to leave sick family members or friends alone in a hospital. He thinks it’s important for the patient’s family/friends to stay in the hospital beyond visiting hours.

Patients have difficulty fending for themselves when they are sick. Family members/friends are the best ones to monitor things as shifts change and hospital staff come and go. Family/friends are usually in the best position to make crucial observations about the patient's progress or lack thereof and can offer valuable insights, which may otherwise be overlooked.

According to Gawande, it’s becoming a group effort to get things right and the patient and their family have both become an important part of the team.

The most important part the patient plays is not being passive about their part on the team. 

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