I have a friend who is a registered nurse and an attorney employed by a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) type of institution as a lawyer. However, she has been a women’s health advocate for many years. Her HMO recognizes that and has asked her to serve on a community panel with the goal to develop strategies to improve local health care services for women.
She recently asked me what I think excellence looks like when it comes to women’s healthcare. I immediately thought of my physicians. Yes, I said physicians in the plural because I have an OBGyn (now strictly gynecology, since I am long past any OB needed services!), an internist (fortunately nothing more serious than colds, occasional stomach aches and biannual physicals), a dermatologist (to tell me that the spots on my face aren’t cancer but the result of sun and age), and an orthopedic surgeon (yes, I am a baby boomer who used to jog and ruptured a disc 12 years ago. Old back injuries just keep on giving and not in a good way). Two are women and two are men. I think all are excellent practitioners. The question is why do I think that and what does that have to do with women’s health services in the general. Read on and I will share some thoughts of what I think constitutes excellent women’s health services:
Treats me like a person, not just a generic no-name patient: When I go to the doctor for a health care check-up or when I am ill, I want to be viewed as a total person. I am a mother, a grandmother, a wife, and a professional, vain, happy, in excellent health mostly, weigh more than I should or want, independent, menopausal and a health communicator. Actually, I am more than that, but the point being is that I not just a random person who comes into the office and then gets called the generic PATIENT. Even if it is a first visit, I want the physician and staff to call me by my name. I am not a stickler for first or last name, just want them to know my name and look me in the eye when we talk.
Has excellent credentials: We moved to our current location almost 4 years ago from a city and state my husband and I had lived in for all of our adult lives. Needless to say, we left behind trusted medical specialists, dentists, ophthalmologists and hair stylists, amongst other service providers. Before making new appointments, I checked out who were part of the network for my health insurance provider. Then, I googled the doctors I was considering to make certain that they were board certified in their fields and had gone to well-respected universities. It was also helpful to review local medial review sites to see what others thought about the doctors. Then, I made my appointments with the thought that if I didn’t feel comfortable with the doctor, I could change practices. So far, I really like my choices.
Asks me questions to clarify and explains treatment options: Years ago, I went to see a doctor because I was feeling really tired and worn out. At the time, my daughter was very young and active, I was working as a nurse on the afternoon or night shift, I was taking classes to earn my BSN in nursing and doing all of the other stuff that I enjoyed in the spare time that I had left. I told the doctor about all of my activities. In any case, the doctor took blood from me, which I assumed was to check to for anemia or something worse and prescribed a medication, which I hadn’t heard of before. He told me to take it for 2 months and then let him know how it was working. Before filling the prescription, I looked up the drug in the PDR (Physician’s Drug Reference). This was way before Internet! What I found was that the medication was an antidepressant. I couldn’t believe it! In hindsight, the doctor asked if I was depressed and I said something like NOT REALLY, but I do feel kind of down when I am so tired. In any case, I never filled the prescription, nor did I return to the doctor. He made a wrong assumption based on little information. While I don’t expect to sit in an office for hours, I do want to be told why the doctor prescribed as he did and not be coy. Obviously I am still aggravated about that.
Takes the team approach: While my health care professional is the expert, I am the person that needs to adhere to any treatment options that are prescribed. We have to agree that I will do what is recommended or it won’t work. For example, I hate to take medication and would rather find ways to seek wellness without drugs. There are ways to help avoid problems, such as diet modifications if one is constipated or weight loss, physical therapy and exercise instead of pain medication. No doubt that there are times when medications are needed to fight infections or for other issues, but there are also precautions one can take to help avoid the need. An example is that I try to avoid visiting my grandchildren when they are coughing, sneezing and vomiting. Recently we were all vacationing together and 2 of the little ones were feverish, lethargic and hacking away. They were placed on antibiotics and felt better within 24-hours. Then, I got sick and took antibiotics too. The point I am making is that sometimes you have to do what you have to do in regards to meds, but sometimes there are other ways. It is important for me to have an HCP that works with me to develop other approaches to health and I consider that excellence in health care.
Stays current in their field of expertise: Consumers today are kept apprised of advances in health care because of the ease of access of information on the Internet. We expect our health care providers to do the same. When I ask a question, I appreciate a nod from my doctor letting me know he is aware of what I read and why I am asking the question. We then have a brief talk about why or why not what I read is appropriate for my specific situation. Also, I want to hear from my HCP too about some new advance that can work for me. Once in awhile one of my HCPs will tell me about something he or she learned at a medical conference. That is big to me because I know they are interested in learning about the latest and greatest in research and practice and not just falling back on the old and outdated.
Ease of access or location, location, location: One thing I have begun to appreciate lately are HCPs that have several office locations around the city. This way, I can book an appointment on the day of the week the doctor is in the office closest to where I live. Love when I don’t have to plan a half-day around a 15- minute office visit.
Summary: Note that I what I have included as components of women’s health services aren’t really specific to women’s health. They are aspect of clinical practice that could apply to both genders. Perhaps that is the key. I believe that the women’s health component is more related to a HCPs appreciation that I am a woman and that my treatment should be specific to my gender and my needs as a female consumer of health and wellness. To my friend: Sorry I wasn’t more helpful. Perhaps those reading this can offer suggestions that will be more insightful as your committee seeks to improve women’s healthcare services in your community.
Please post any ideas that I can pass along and THANK YOU!