Julie Devaney facilitates workshops on interactions between patients and medical professionals. She also performs a stage show called My Leaky Body that describes her personal experiences as a patient. Here, Julie shares her advice on how to communicate with medical professionals.
I started staging workshops on healthcare following my own very personal and leaky experiences with Crohn's disease. After spending several years in and out of hospitals and having operations, I began performing my own stories in to illustrate dynamics in medical care in a stage show called My Leaky Body. The scenes I depict illustrate the power inequality between healthcare professionals and patients. In the four years I've been performing and giving workshops across Canada and internationally, I'm struck by how frequently the same scenarios replicate themselves across so many different times, places and situations. Patients frequently describe not being heard by healthcare professionals, being labelled as “trouble” for knowing too much or wanting for more information before consenting to particular treatments or procedures, and especially for refusing to consent based on their own personal opinions.
I have massive respect for healthcare professionals who are doing a very difficult job in increasingly difficult conditions. In Canada, we see political and economic pressure putting a tremendous strain on the healthcare system. Despite this, the vast majority of doctors and nurses who I've encountered either as a patient or a workshop facilitator, is made up of amazing, caring people who genuinely want to help. But there’s still a lot of work to do. Even in the best-case scenarios, interactions in hospitals are still extremely intimidating for many patients. After years of facilitating workshops on patient experiences, even I succumb to the “doctor hush” in critical moments.
The advice I offer to patients is:
• Where possible, find doctors and nurses with whom you feel comfortable communicating and being honest.
• When communicating with a healthcare professional, stay at their eye level. If you're sitting and a doctor begins speaking to you while standing, either ask her to sit or stand up to meet her gaze.
• Remind healthcare professionals, respectfully and firmly, that they do require your consent for all procedures, and that you plan to participate fully in all decision-making about your own care.
Julie will be performing My Leaky Body in Toronto on Wednesday June 16 and the book version of the show will be published in 2011.
Photo: Nadia Cheema