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October, 2006

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Patients need advocates
by Kristine Berey
If you have to go to the hospital for an extended length of time, it’s more than a good idea to bring a close family member or a good friend to help you recover, says Alex Paterson.

“In our resource-hungry system, it’s almost essential,” said the prominent Montreal lawyer, addressing a packed audience at the Cummings Centre for Jewish Seniors at the concluding session of the Julius Briskin Mini-Law Program.
Because of “a terrible design-flaw in our hospitals,” resulting in nursing stations being far from the patient, life after surgery is made so much easier if you have someone there just for you, to help in small ways. “If you have that luxury, don’t hesitate,” Paterson said. “I think it’s better advice than I can read to you from a law book.”
Other suggestions included asking to see the hospital’s Code of Ethics on admission. “Although they won’t automatically give you one, all hospitals have them.”
This document sets guidelines as to what patients can expect, including being treated respectfully, and the right to privacy and confidentiality. “You have the right to be dealt with outside the sight of other people,” Paterson said. These are fundamental rights, according to Paterson. “All other rights follow from that.”
If there is a conflict, Paterson advises working it out with the Head Nurse. “She runs the show and she can get things done,” he said. Failing that, patients should speak to the nurse on duty. “If you’re really unhappy, every hospital has an ombudsman or a patient representative. You can ask to see him or her.” Although Quebec now has a formal complaint system, Paterson feels it should be used only a last resort. “It’s nice to know [the system] is there, but most of the time it’s better to solve problems with the people who treat you.”
Although patients have the right to access their medical records, the hospital has an equal right to require that a medical professional be present in certain cases. For example, in the case of mental illness, the treating doctor may feel that it is not in the patient’s best interest to look at his own records. Then the patient may still appoint someone else to look into the medical files.
A patient may seek a second and even third opinion if necessary. He may ask that his file be sent to the doctor of his choice.
Patients have the right to know and understand the medical procedures that are suggested they undergo and should not hesitate to ask questions. “The doctor has to tell you the risks and benefits of the procedures. Is it something you can live with for a while? What are the statistics? What happened to people older or younger than you?”
However, not all patients take full advantage of this right. “Some people don’t ask questions because they’re scared of the answers,” Paterson said.

Forum: stress you can manage
To celebrate the launch of a new research centre, the Douglas Hospital Centre for Studies on Human Stress, will host free lectures September 17 at 1:30 pm.

Director Sonia Lupien PhD and program director Gary Wild MD will define stress and talk about how to discuss its effects with your doctor.
Linked to heart disease, weakened immune system response and other ailments, stress has a lot bad press. Yet, an unruffled life would lack challenge and be downright boring.
Stress is caused by changes in environment, where the body has to react to a situation, emotional or physical, that it perceives as dangerous.
We are all vulnerable to stress, whether it comes from dealing with life changes, or facing medical challenges. Understanding the sources of stress is a way to begin controlling stress levels. We can learn ways to restore relaxation to the body and mind.
Activities take place at Douglas Hall, Douglas Hospital, 6875 LaSalle Blvd. in Verdun. Info: (514) 761-6131 ext. 2770.

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