Penny’s Blog

A few suggestions for medical technicians

Posted on: March 6, 2009

When you have an illness that involves unfamiliar treatments and tests, it’s easy to feel depersonalized, bewildered, and frustrated.  But when the treaters and testers tell you what’s being done to you, and why, it makes the whole thing easier to tolerate.  This used to be one of my guidelines about childrearing, but it applies to patient care, too:  If you can’t give someone control, you can at least give them information, and that helps.

(1) It’s fine to ask a patient, “Did the doctor tell you about this procedure?” or “Do you know what we’re going to do?” But even if the patient says “Yes,” you should still proceed to give her a detailed explanation of what’s going to happen. Because maybe, for example, the doctor told the patient, “They’re going to do a scan to look at your heart function,” but didn’t mention that the scan takes an hour and requires an IV and entails being compressed under a big plate.  Or maybe the doctor mentioned that radiation would involve a head restraint, but he neglected to mention the part about getting tattooed.  I’m just sayin’.

(2) If you’re doing something that makes the patient unable to talk or get up, let her know what her escape options are.

  • Bad (my first Radiology visit):  Putting a mouthpiece in someone’s mouth, unannounced; attaching her to a table in a darkened room; leaving her there while you go run the CT scanner, not having told her how long she would be thus confined.
  • Good (second visit, different technicians) :  Letting the person put the mouthpiece in by herself; telling her, “We’ll be in and out of the room, but we can see you through a window, and we have video cameras going, so if you need anything, just wave your arms.”

(3) Similarly, if you’re going to go off and leave a patient alone in a room for an hour, maybe you could tell her how to contact someone if she needs help.  You could even poke your head in the doorway every half hour or so and say, “How you doin’?” And if it turns out that you end up leaving her alone for 90 minutes instead of the stated hour, you could come by and say, “Hey, we’re running late, but we haven’t forgotten you.”  Bonus points if, before all this, you say, “You’re going to be left alone in a chair for two hours, and not allowed to get up—would you like to use the rest room first?”

Thank you.

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5 Responses to "A few suggestions for medical technicians"

Wow. I hope this information gets to where it needs to go. Medical schools may be great at teaching technique, but they have a long way to go when it comes to communication and bedside manner.

I hope that the treatments are tolerable and leaving you feeling OK. Thinking of you.

Awful awful awful!!!! Maybe your radiologist should read this. Heads will roll. As if. And, I thought these visits were 15 minutes each! And, you were told the tattoos would go on the mask, not on you! I am very mad for you. Can you tell? Like you need this. Maybe, at least, you could talk to the supervisor. Like you need this.

Thanks for being indignant on my behalf, friends!

I should clarify that only part of this post refers to what’s going on with my current radiation treatment. I had one very bad visit there (my first one); the rest have been fine, with very skilled and kind and communicative technicians.

The other negative experiences were late last year… #3 (a PET scan) is on my mind a lot right now because I’m scheduled for a followup PET scan in several weeks. I hope I’ll see the tech who did my first one, so I can give him some feedback. At the very least, I’ll know more this time, so it will be less of an ordeal.

I don’t think the bad technicians have been intentionally hurtful—they just do so many of these procedures every day, they forget what it’s like for a patient who’s going through one for the first time.

When you get through all of this (and you will), you should write a book! Title: Do No Harm, or why my doctors and insurance company need to revisit the golden rule

Oy what a nightmarish experience. No excuses, sorry, for the medical techs’ failure to prepare you with information and reassurance in advance. Shame on them.

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