Fighting For Your Rights in the Hospital
This is a discussion that we talked about on the Warrior’s Annual Retreat and is long overdue for a post for the general community. The question was that, “What do you do when you are being treated badly by a nurse or doctor in the hospital?”
We have all had a few experiences where we know that we were treated unfairly, without compassion, and sub-standard. In fact, some of the nurses and doctors (not all, just some), may have said something harsh to us or a family member, or done something that made us feel insignificant, uncared for, and our rights violated.
Health care workers are forbidden from saying anything that makes you feel abused, harassed, or disrespected. Doing so is a violation of your patient rights, and it’s up to you to report it so that it does not happen again. Reporting the incident gives notice to the offender, and if they are a repeat offender, then at least it’s documented in their file, so that they can be dealt with by their superiors. Some health care workers are unaware, so reporting helps to give them notice. It also introduces a semi-neutral third party into the situation so that you both have conflict resolution. Reporting pays it forward and protects the next sickle cell warrior, or yourself from abuse in the future. Keeping silent just allows the abuse to continue.
I dread going to the hospital or emergency room because I know that it’s an exercise in patience with the stereotypes and negative energy that having a chronic medical condition invariably brings. In fact, I dread it so much that I have just called my physician for a direct admit and skipped the emergency room altogether.
Okay, enough of the soapbox. Let’s get back to the question. What can you do when you are treated badly? What are your rights? Here are some steps to ensure that you take control of the situation, and become a warrior advocate instead of a victim. Your family, friend, or significant other can also take these steps on your behalf.
1. As soon as something happens, write it down. Write down the name/rank of the person, the time/date it occurred, and all that you remember. The more details you have the better. Write down what she/he said and what you said. Write down everything that happened to best of your recollection. Chances are, you are going to get pain meds in the next few hours, so everything may become a bit blurry, so writing it down is your best bet. You can also use the voice recorder on your cell phone, or tablet, or type it up (if you have your laptop). You have to keep a record of it.
2. If possible, get a witness. If there was someone there when it happened (family, friend etc.), you should keep them around. You can also get their written or recorded statement. You may need to present this proof later down the road, so keep it as long as you can.
3. Report it. There are various ways that you can report it. The first is to dial 0 (zero) on your hospital phone and ask to speak be transferred to the Quality department, Patient Complaint line, or Case Manager for your floor. You don’t need to go into details, this is the operator, and they will transfer you probably to a voice mail box. Leave a message with your name, room number, and state that you want to file a complaint. Do not leave details beyond that. Someone may come to your room, or call you back. That is when to start going into details.
4. Take it up the chain of command. If the issue is during the night shift, and with your nurse, call the nursing station and ask to speak with the charge nurse. File a complaint with the charge nurse. If you feel like she did not do anything, or resolve the situation, call the operator again, and ask to be transferred to the Nursing Supervisor. The nursing supervisor runs the entire hospital, and is in charge of all the nurses. File a complaint with her. She is legally required to follow up the complaint. If it is during the day, you can call the operator and ask for the Director of Nursing or Chief Nursing Officer. This is the absolute President of all the nurses, and trust me, if you file a complaint with her…~heads will roll i.e. people may get suspended/fired. So use this only as your final alternative and only if it’s an extremely offensive situation.
If the issue is with a physician, ask for their rank. You will then call the operator to page the next rank up from the offense. If you do not know who your physician is, you can ask the nurse. You don’t have to go into details, just say that you would like the name of your (Resident), and then either have her page the doc (if she’s cool), or page the doctor to your room yourself.
Intern—-Resident—-Fellow—-Attending—-Chief Medical Officer
Floor nurse—Charge Nurse—-Nursing supervisor—-Chief Nursing Officer
5. State your case. So now, you have someone that is willing to listen to you. I would suggest writing out what you want to say when you file your complaint. Be as detailed as possible but stick to the facts i.e. what he said, what you said, what he said etc. State how this made you feel violated, and how this violates your Patient Rights. You need to present yourself as you would to a police officer, respectful, intelligent, articulate, and in your right mind. You may have to state your case multiple times over and over again so make sure that you keep everything straight, and consistent. You don’t want to be shown out like you are the liar. And the offending person will try to discredit you. This is why it’s best to have a recording, or a witness to back you up.
6. Ask for a new nurse or doctor. You can ask to be transferred to a new nurse or doctor. You can *fire* the person that treated you poorly and ask for someone else. Most of the time, they will give you a better, more experienced nurse/doctor, and things will go on much better from then on.
7. Be Courteous. Use your pleases/thank yous, and most courteous tone. If you become aggressive, they will use that against you. So be assertive, firm, and speak up. But don’t slip into Angry Black Person mode. The nicer you are, the more those you call upon are liable to help you. If you are rude and aggressive, they may ignore you completely and you won’t be able to recover from that with this situation.
8. Don’t let it go. Even after someone has come up to talk to you, don’t let up. Chances are, the first person that speaks to you is just there to try to mollify and pacify you. So don’t let that happen, keep going up the chain of command until you get what you seek. Usually I ask for a new nurse/doctor, and an apology from the offender.
I once had such a horrible situation that I followed these steps and went up the chain of command. By the time I was done, both the CEO of the hospital, and the Chief Nursing Officer came to my room to apologize. Everything was rectified and I had a great hospitalization all the way through after that.