From The Trenches

(Healthcare Reform for the Real World)

#5: Taking Personal Responsibility

This is the fifth in a series of articles examining the problems in our health care system from the real world where patients get sick and injured, and doctors and other health care providers work to heal them. In the series, we’ll identify the actual non-political problems, and offer sound, sensible solutions that we can ourselves enact to reduce risk and increase patient safety.

People rely upon professionals to take care of them, and it is reasonable for them to do so. Though we come from a world of generalists, medicine is a world of specializations, and we defer to these experts. Perhaps this is wise; a specialist can afford to dig into the depths of his or her field of expertise and gain greater understandings of those detailed workings. But that doesn’t mean that we have become impotent, or that we shouldn’t still have a generalist who can see the forest while standing amongst the trees. More importantly, that doesn’t mean that we delegate or relegate our responsibility for our own health and well being; We can rely upon the expertise of specialists without giving up control of our lives.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” — Robert A. Heinlein

Obviously, we don’t concur with the last sentence in Mr. Heinlein’s illustrious statement, but overall, his point is well made and heeded. We must take personal responsibility for our health as well as our well-being; this applies to physicians as well as their patients. And it’s not just applicable to our health. The same holds true for most aspects of our lives. I may entrust the filling of my tires to the tire shop, but I’m still going to check them and refill them as necessary. I’m still going to go to the tire shop (or mechanic) if I think there’s a problem, but potential problems are still eventually my responsibility. Moreover, it is I who will suffer the bad outcome if I don’t accept responsibility for my own life, choices and actions.

When we’re talking about health and medicine, it’s up to each of us to treat our bodies well. If you’re smoking, quit. If you’re drinking to excess, it’s likely you have a problem and should seek help for it. When you go to the store, do you buy little else but junk food? Do you make/take time to get exercise? Taking care of your body is your responsibility. It’s not okay to try to blame a doctor for a bad outcome after abusing your body with wild abandon for years.

Similarly, a physician may want to just write a check for Medical Malpractice Insurance and forget the subject of malpractice until the same time next year. But if you do, you’re just as responsible for a bad outcome as the patient who abuses his body for decades and then presents with chest pains in the ER. There are a great many things one can do to reduce and manage risks. Medical Justice is an expert on that subject. You can turn to the specialists for help and advice, but you must take the steps, make the effort and wise choices, be proactive in preventing medical malpractice suits, defamation of character, etc. It’s up to you to protect and preserve your professional reputation. This applies to all kinds of health care providers, not just physicians. Dentists, day spas, R.N.’s, LPNs, PAs… virtually every position in health care.

It’s good to trust in the experts, but you still have to go to them, get their advice, take the steps to protect yourself. If you’re a health care provider, call Medical Justice, find out what you can do to protect your well-being, finances and reputation. It’s all about taking personal responsibility.