Attitude of health care providers on dignity of patients

2017 April 23

Sarath Mohan S., Medical Social Worker at Pallium India, writes:

As a social worker, I am still learning about dignity and its importance in human life. My beliefs and ideas about dignity relate to what I have learnt and what I have experienced throughout my life. I would define dignity as a feeling of having one’s human value and worth being acknowledged. It is also associated with autonomy and having control over one’s destiny.

I would like to throw some light on the influence of health care providers in the dignity of a person, through a personal experience. My father was diagnosed with a kidney disease, a year ago. He has diabetic retinopathy and is partially blind too. Now he cannot walk without support. One day, after consultation in a corporate hospital, he was asked to wait outside the room. He waited in a wheelchair for the support staff to come.

No one turned up for a long time. When we – the family members – tried to move the wheelchair, they did not allow us to do so. Their motto was, “We are here to care for you. You do not need to do anything.”

So my father ended up waiting for more than half an hour in that hospital corridor. He has physical limitations which confine him to a wheelchair. But his dignity and self-respect does not have any confinement! I noticed his devastated face clearly because of being hurt and undignified. The same hospital staff, so-called ‘compassionate health care providers’, did not even ask his permission before giving an injection or checking blood pressure. I wonder how these ‘compassionate health care providers’ justify themselves personally and professionally for treating patients without respecting their dignity. This is not just the case of my father, but of many other patients as well.

Anybody working in health care has the prodigious opportunity and a responsibility to think about others’ dignity and how they personally influence the experience of the people whom they care for. Especially from palliative care point of view, maintaining dignity warrants compassion. Seeing a person as a person first is paramount, not just as a diagnosis or a container of diseases. Every person’s self-image and the way in which health care providers see that has an intimate connection. That means, patients and families expect a lot from the health care providers. It is the responsibility of health care providers to meet their needs.

Only after working at Pallium India did I get the big picture of compassionate care and respecting the dignity of a person. Every nursing procedure will be carried out only after a “May I…..?”. Communication of bad news will be always done in empathetic and systematic way. I have seen nurses who speak to apparently unconscious patients before medical procedures and shifting. There is no better way to respect their dignity. In palliative care, we strive to improve the quality of life of patient and families and thereby we are respecting/valuing their dignity. We give a voice to the patient regarding one’s own process of dying, minimizing physical and emotional suffering, respecting their privacy, and caring for them with empathy. We see them as people who are seeking help with a medical concern.

Patients would like to see themselves through health care providers. If they are able to see that, we have done something remarkable to respect and maintain their dignity. Understanding the suffering of others and willingness or a wish to make a difference in people’s life is all what we need to do to value the dignity of that person. So we health care providers should have the desire for that.

I have not come across any better definition of dignity than these great words by Dame Cicely Saunders. Remembering that great lady with huge respect and passion.

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”

(Image: Sarath with a patient)

2 Responses
  1. Dany Shaji permalink
    April 24, 2017

    It’s a wonderful reflection with a personal touch. Palliative care is blessed to have Committed Social Workers like you.
    Bless you

  2. Anne permalink
    April 25, 2017

    Good reflections.thanks for sharing sarath

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