Monday, March 23, 2015
Don't Let Curiosity Destroy Good Care
Curiosity Killed the Business
Could you imagine a medical professional saying to a person with HIV/AIDS, “You scare me so I would rather not treat you”? What about telling a person with disabilities that they are a “bother” and take up too much time?
You wouldn’t think that it could happen, but even if such things are not said out loud, only thought about, the care and treatment of the patient is compromised.
I recently gave a presentation about the work PULSE of NY does with community groups and vulnerable populations. I finished with a brief discussion about patient safety and my work with a variety of populations — one being patients who are transgender. As I was walking away, a man stopped me and wanted to have a private conversation. “What do we call these people?” he asked me. I stopped to think about this question and the words he used: “these people.” I know that if I were transgender, the hair would stand up on my neck. Instead I sat down with him, gave him my biggest smile and said, “I’m so glad you asked. I just wish you had asked earlier so everyone could hear the answer.”
I asked who he was, because earlier when I was with senior leadership I got the impression there wasn’t much interest in this topic, but now he was asking a very basic question. He was calling them “people,” and although it seemed a bit cold, his intentions were good. It seems he was the head of the transportation team in this large community hospital and he explained that he conveys plenty of people who are transgender — people whose names don’t match their looks. He was grateful for my response and was taking notes. I was grateful that he cared enough to ask. But would he ask someone who is transgender?
Years ago when teaching a gathering of senior leadership in a small hospital about working with people with various physical disabilities, a nurse in charge said, “They take up so much time.” As an advocate for this community I had to catch my breath. I thanked her for her comments. “Now,” I said to the group, “what can be done to fix this?”
When we don’t acknowledge the hidden feelings, the stigmas or our fears of the unknown, it puts a burden on the people entrusted with the job of caring for people they don’t know enough about.
Not all patients are ideal patients. Some have many questions, some come to the hospital after a bad experience. Some patients will take extra time for a variety of reasons. This often can’t be helped. Allowing staff to explore their feelings about unwed mothers, people addicted to or dependent on pain medications, people with disabilities or people who are transgender is important to making a fully rounded medical team. Some medical professionals will say, “I really don’t care: a person is a person.” Wouldn’t it be great if they all did?